chapter  1
10 Pages

The death penalty in the era of slavery

ByBharat Malkani

Slaves and free blacks had long been subjected to the death penalty at a greater rate than free whites. In 1740, for example, slaves and free blacks could be executed in South Carolina for destroying grain, for enticing other slaves to escape captivity, or for maiming or bruising a white person. Inadvertently, anti-death penalty activists entrenched these racially disparate laws by successfully campaigning to limit the death penalty's use. Since black people were considered to be of less value than whites, they had long been particularly prone to execution. Although many activists opposed the death penalty because they understood it to be a component in the system of bondage, in several respects these activists inadvertently contributed to the use of capital punishment as a tool of slavery and racial subjugation. This had the effect of consolidating and normalizing the racial prejudices that underpinned slavery. In the post-emancipation era, the death penalty continued to be marred by the legacy of slavery.