John Jones Fights for the Repeal of the Black Code

Image of John Jones Fights for the Repeal of the Black Code, oil painting, Alfred Jackson Tyler, 1963
by Alfred Jackson Tyler, oil painting, 1963

Your petitioner, though humble in position, and having no political status in your State, notwithstanding I have resided in it for twenty-five years, and today am paying taxes … most humbly beseech you to recommend in your Message to the Legislature... the repeal of the Black Laws of this your State
    --John Jones's letter to Illinois Governor Richard Yates, November 4,1864
When Illinois entered the Union in 1818 as a free state, vestiges of slavery still existed, and African Americans lived under restrictive laws that limited their freedom. These laws, commonly called the Black Code, denied them the right to vote, assemble in groups, testify in court, or bear arms. 
John Jones arrived in Chicago with his wife, Mary Richardson, in 1845. He was a self-made man with no formal education who went on to develop a thriving tailoring business, invest in real estate, and by 1860, become one of the nation's wealthiest African Americans. In 1871, Jones was elected the first African American Commissioner for Cook County. 
John and Mary Jones were tireless and outspoken critics of slavery and the Black Code. Their home in Chicago was a sanctuary on the Underground Railroad, a network of people who assisted escaped slaves in their flight to Canada.

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