In the tumultuous years leading up to the American Civil War, one man’s fight for love and justice stood as a testament to the racial discrimination that plagued the United States. Arthur Barkshire, a free African American, was tried and convicted in 1854 for bringing his wife, Elizabeth Keith, a Black woman from Ohio, into the state of Indiana. This seemingly mundane act of love became a symbolic challenge to the oppressive “Black Codes” of the time.
During the 19th century, discriminatory laws known as “Black Codes” were enacted across the United States. These laws systematically denied African Americans their basic rights, discriminated against them, and sought to exclude them from various states. Indiana was no exception, and Article 13 of its 1851 Constitution was one such example. It prohibited further immigration of black Americans into Indiana, making it illegal for individuals like Arthur Barkshire to bring their families into Indiana.
Arthur Barkshire, a black man who had resided in Indiana, for a decade, found himself entangled in this web of discrimination. In 1851, he married Elizabeth Keith, a Black woman, in Indiana. However, when Elizabeth moved to Indiana from Ohio in 1854, they were met with legal repercussions. Elizabeth’s move was seen as a violation of Article 13 of the Indiana Constitution, and Arthur Barkshire was charged with harboring her.
Barkshire appealed his conviction, arguing that his marriage to Elizabeth should be an exception to the law. Unfortunately, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 1856, and their marriage was nullified. Despite this setback, the couple remained in Indiana until 1859.
The discriminatory Article 13 was not destined to endure forever. In 1866, it was finally declared invalid. However, Arthur Barkshire’s case remains a stark reminder of the deep-seated racism and injustice African Americans faced during this era.