The Missouri Compromise

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Student Question

Was Frederick Douglass correct in opposing the Exodus to Kansas of 1879, advocating instead for Southern freed people to stay and fight for their rights?

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The Exodus to Kansas was a northwest migration of African Americans out of Southern states like Mississippi and Alabama. These African Americans were seeking a safer life away from the hateful violence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. While the desire to leave the South seems understandable, many abolitionists like Frederick Douglass opposed the Exodus to Kansas. Instead, Douglass believed that African Americans should stay in the South and fight for their rights as citizens.

Was Douglass right? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, it is likely that many families escaped violence and began a new life in a safer place. On the other hand, Kansas wasn’t perfect either, any many of the migrants suffered from poverty there. But more importantly, Douglass wanted newly-free African Americans to earn the societal rank they deserved—that of equals. Douglass knew that if all of the former slaves left the South, the movement for racial equality would have fewer supporters. Even if it benefited some of the individuals who left, it would harm the greater political cause. Therefore, with the big picture of history in mind, it seems that Douglass was right.

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