The black laws!: Speech of Hon. B.W. Arnett of Greene County, In the Ohio House of Representatives, March 10, 1886
Bishop Benjamin William Arnett (1838-1906), a prominent African Methodist Episcopal cleric, represented Greene County in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1885-87. In this speech, he pleads for the repeal of Ohio's segregation laws.
"The denial of our civil rights in this and other States is a subject of public notoriety, denied by none but acknowledged by all to be wrong and unjust; yet, in traveling in the South we are compelled to feel its humiliating effects. It is written over the door of the waiting room, "For Colored Persons;" and in that small, and frequently dirty and dingy room, you have to go or stand on the platform and wait for the train. In Georgia they have cars marked "For Colored Passengers." There is one railroad in Alabama that has a special car for colored persons. They will not allow a white man to ride in that car; and many other roads allow the lower classes to ride in the car set apart for "Colored Persons."
One would think that at this time of our civilization, that character, and not color, would form the line of distinction in society, but such is not the case. It matters not what may be the standing or intelligence of a colored man or woman, they have to submit to the wicked laws and the more wicked prejudice of the people. It is not confined to either North or South. It is felt in this State to some extent; we feel it in the hotels, we feel it in the opera house. There are towns in this State where respectable ladies and gentlemen have been denied hotel accommodations, but such places are diminishing daily, under the growing influences of equal laws.
In the city of Cincinnati there are places where a colored man can not get accommodations for love nor money; there was a man who started an equal rights house; the colored people patronized him; his business increased; he made money. He has closed his house against his former patrons, and will not accommodate them.
Members will be astonished when I tell them that I have traveled in this free country for twenty hours without anything to eat; not because I had no money to pay for it, but because I was colored. Other passengers of a lighter hue had breakfast, dinner and supper. In traveling we are thrown in "jim crow" cars, denied the privilege of buying a berth in the sleeping coach. This monster caste stands at the doors of the theatres and skating rinks, locks the doors of the pews in our fashionable churches closes the mouths of some of the ministers in their pulpits which prevents the man of color from breaking the bread of life to his fellowmen.
This foe of my race stands at the school house door and separates the children, by reason of color, and denies to those who have a visible admixture of African blood in them the blessings of a graded school and equal privileges. We propose by this bill to knock this monster in the head and deprive him of his occupation, for he follows us all through life; and even some of our graveyards are under his control. The colored dead are denied burial. We call upon all friends of Equal Rights to assist in this struggle to secure the blessings of untrammeled liberty for ourselves and prosperity."
Full text (Library of Congress/Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection)