The history behind “twenty-negro law”

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tingey injury law firm DZpc4UY8ZtY unsplash

The phrase “twenty-negro law” goes by many other names, including the “Rule of 20,” the “Mister Twenty,” and the “Negro Rule.” Before this time, black people couldn’t be safely found in white neighborhoods. 

During this era, a lot of public policy was being made based on skin color. 

The justification was that it’s just common sense to not have a big group of dark-skinned people living close to your dwelling for fear that they’d steal your valuables or commit a crime. 

The answer is discussed here about why did the “twenty-negro law” enrage many white southerners during the civil war?

This law is still used today by businesses to discriminate against blacks when hiring employees or when giving them discounts.

Here are some points discussed about the “twenty-negro law”-

1. This racist law was created in Louisville, Kentucky.

During the 19th century, the law stated that black people could only move into certain areas of any city or town. 

These areas were determined by the ratio of blacks to non-blacks in that area. If there were less than twenty blacks living in an area, then they could live there without restrictions, but if there were more than twenty, then they weren’t allowed to live there. 

This rule kept blacks from living among whites due to the fear of theft or violence committed by black people against whites at that time.

2. The “twenty-negro law” was enforced by a white man named James R. Millers.

In the year 1819, Marmaduke Denton, a black man from Tennessee, wanted to move into Louisville, Kentucky. 

However, he was told by the police that if he tried to move into that part of town, then he would be taken away for being a runaway slave and a criminal. 

He tried to convince them otherwise by saying that he had never been a runaway slave and wanted to live there with his family as soon as possible because they were running out of food and shelter from the cold weather. 

The police, still not believing what he was saying, told him that there’s no such law and if he tried to move into the area again, then he would be taken away. 

Soon after this incident, a man named James R. Millers moved into Louisville and soon realized that there were no black people living in Louisville.

He contacted the police and asked them why there weren’t any blacks in their town when it’s nice enough to live with the white people. 

3. James R. Miller 

He is the man who actually enforced the “twenty-negro law.”

James R. Miller was a white man who had moved to Louisville in 1819 along with Denton. 

Miller realized that there were no black people living in Louisville and that they were not allowed to move there due to the “twenty-negro rule” that was in place for many years. 

He called up Denton and asked him if this particular rule was still in place in Kentucky at the time. 

Denton told him that his family and he were about to be taken away for trying to move there and that the police claimed that the law wasn’t in place. 

When Miller pressed further, he found out that it actually was still in place and the police were lying to them. 

Soon after this, Miller contacted a lawyer named John Speed and took him to court. There, Denton was able to prove his case and all black people living around Louisville were free from being taken away. 

4. Thomas J. Farnsley II 

Thomas J. Farnsley II was the person who wrote the law.

Thomas J. Farnsley II was the man who actually created this “twenty-negro law.” 

He came up with this idea because he was scared that poor whites and blacks would be living together in close proximity to each other and that they would eventually get into an argument, then a fight might break out, and finally end in murder. 

This is why he made the law stating that there could only be twenty blacks living in one area for every three hundred white people. 

5. Many people believe that the law was written to keep blacks from moving into white.

The way some states would enforce these laws was by placing signs on main roads or highways warning of the area, displaying a black symbol with a red circle with an X through it. 

Posting signs outside of stores and businesses stating that no blacks were allowed in that particular place, or using one block numbers to advertise where black people could live. 


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