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Jim Crow North

The Struggle for Equal Rights in Antebellum New England

Richard Archer

Publication Date - July 2020

ISBN: 9780197532881

312 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $29.95


More than a century before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, Shadrach Howard, David Ruggles, Frederick Douglass, and others had rejected demands that they relinquish their seats on various New England railroads. They were protesting segregation on Jim Crow cars, a term that originated in New England in 1839. Theirs was part of a larger movement for equal rights in antebellum New England. Using sit-ins, boycotts, petition drives, and other initiatives, African-American New Englanders and their white allies attempted to desegregate schools, transportation, neighborhoods, churches, and cultural venues. Above all they sought to be respected and treated as equals in a reputedly democratic society. Jim Crow North is the tale of that struggle and the racism that prompted it.

Despite widespread racism, black New Englanders were remarkably successful. By the advent of the Civil War African American men could vote and hold office in every New England state but Connecticut. Schools, except in the largest cities of Connecticut and Rhode Island, were integrated. Railroads, stagecoaches, hotels, and cultural venues (with occasional aberrations) were free from discrimination. People of African descent and of European descent could marry one another and live peaceably, even in Maine and Rhode Island where such marriages were legally prohibited. There was an emerging, if still small, black middle class who benefitted most. But there were limits to progress. A majority of African-Americans in New England were mired in poverty preventing full equality both then and now.


  • Highlights the struggle for equal rights in antebellum New England and the fact that the term "Jim Crow" originated there in 1839
  • Provides a unique interpretation that racism in the early 19th century grew from rapid emancipation, not gradual emancipation
  • Uncovers data on mixed marriages in New England before the Civil War
  • Shows how different racism in New England from that in other sections of the country

About the Author(s)

Richard Archer is a Professor of History Emeritus at Whittier College. He is the author of two previous books on New England, Fissures in the Rock: New England in the Seventeenth Century and As If an Enemy's Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution.


"[P]rovides a rich...account of the African American struggle for civil equality in New England before the Civil War....Recommended."--D. R. Mandell, CHOICE

"Jim Crow North is a valuable resource for undergraduate and graduate students alike." -- David Rothmund, University of Illinois at Chicago, H-Socialisms

"A compact and cohesive history of the African American fight for equal rights in postrevolutionary New England....Archer shines in his in-depth work on the characteristics and pervasiveness of mixed marriages in the antebellum period, highlighting an understudied subject....An accessible history that should be required reading for those interested in African American or antebellum history." -- James J. Gigantino II, Journal of American History

"A wonderfully compact compendium of many of those things readers...would like to know concerning the realities of racism as practiced and sometimes reformed in antebellum New England." -- Larry E. Tise, Journal of the Early Republic

"Until recently there were few sustained critical examinations of pre-Civil War bigotry and racism in the North where antislavery forces were not treated sympathetically. Richard Archer's readable and well-researched book is a welcome resource on the topic, and demonstrates the hostility that African Americans faced even in largely antislavery society....Archer introduces readers to many influential antebellum New England African Americans, only peripherally discussed in antislavery literature, whose efforts fighting Northern prejudice and segregation were effective and deserve better common knowledge." -- Granville Ganter, African American Review

"Insightful....Readers will appreciate Archer's nuanced analysis of black-white relations within New England." -- Mark Elliott, American Historical Review

"Richard Archer has provided scholars and students with an excellent and readable study of the civil rights struggle of Afro-New Englanders. He shows that racism had exceedingly deep roots in New England, but so did the efforts of African Americans to claim and maintain meaningful citizenship. As Archer shows, black people were not satisfied with basic freedom bathed in discriminatory attitudes, laws, and beliefs. Instead, they fought tooth and nail to achieve what they came to consider their rights as citizens of the various states of New England." -- Harvey Amani Whitfield, Vermont History

"It is Archer's excellent storytelling, coupled with his contextualization of events, which enriches Jim Crow North and makes it an especially worthwhile read for historians and general interest readers of African American history.... Ideal for assigning to undergraduate students." -- Gordon S. Barker, Civil War Book Review

Table of Contents

    Part I: Jim Crow in New England

    Chapter 1: The World of Hosea Easton and David Walker
    Chapter 2: New England's Peculiar Institution
    Chapter 3: Emancipation and Free African Americans

    Part II: Girding Up

    Chapter 4: Unity and Uplift
    Chapter 5: Advanced Education
    Chapter 6: Intimidation, Assaults, and Riots

    Part III: Towards Equality

    Chapter 7: Riding the Rails with Jim Crow
    Chapter 8: Forward Steps

    Part IV: Mixed Marriages

    Chapter 9: Repealing the Law
    Chapter 10: Breaking a Barrier

    Part V: Hitting the Wall

    Chapter 11: Fugitives
    Chapter 12: Inching Ahead
    Chapter 13: The Wall

    Part VI: Epilogue

    Chapter 14: Miles to Go