Slavery in the United States began in 1619, when the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, and were sold into slavery. Fifty years later, on October 20, 1669, the Virginia Assembly enacted a law removing criminal penalties for people who killed slaves that resisted authority. The rationale was that such a killing could not be considered murder because the “premeditated malice” element of murder could not be formed against one’s own property.
In the years that followed, Virginia continued to reduce protection for slaves, eventually removing any and all penalties for the killing of slaves. After the American Revolution, many states created penalties for killing slaves, but loopholes often remained and slave owners were rarely punished for killing enslaved people throughout the history of slavery in America.
Hosted by the late D’Army Bailey, Moments in Civil Rights History is produced in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative and is part of Comcast NBCUniversal’s “His Dream, Our Stories” project. Visit His Dream, Our Stories for more Civil Rights History, first-hand accounts from those who led, participate in or benefited from the Movement, or to share a civil rights story of your own (or that of a loved one).
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