On this dayFeb 16, 1847

Missouri Prohibits Education of Black People

Library of Congress

On February 16, 1847, the legislature of Missouri passed an act that prohibited “Negroes and mulattoes” from learning to read and write and assembling freely for worship services. The act also forbade the migration of free Black people to the state. The penalty for anyone violating any of the law’s provisions was a fine not to exceed $5,000 (the equivalent of $160,000 today), a jail term not to exceed six months, or a combination of fine and jail sentence.

The 1847 law supplemented a Missouri law passed in 1825 that imposed various restrictions on free Black people. The 1825 law defined a Black person as anyone having at least one Black grandparent. The 1825 law also prohibited free Black people from keeping or carrying weapons without a special permit and settling in Missouri without a certificate of citizenship from Missouri or another state. Free Black people who migrated to or through Missouri without citizenship documents faced arrest, a court order to leave the state within 30 days, and a punishment of ten lashes. Under the 1825 law, white ship captains and labor bosses were permitted to bring free Black people into the state as workers, though for no longer than six months at a time.

In 1840, nearly 13% of Missouri’s population was composed of enslaved Black people, while free Black people made up less than 1% of the state’s residents. The 1847 law was enacted to place further limitations on the Black population and maintain white supremacy. 

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