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'The Right to Enter Every Other State' - The Supreme Court and African American Mobility in the United States
Mobilities (2010)
In 1857, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney stated in the Dred
Scott case that if one African American was free to move unhindered throughout the United
States, then all African Americans, enslaved or otherwise, would have ‘the right to enter every
other State’. Such a situation, he argued, was untenable. The Supreme Court thus suggested
that if U.S. citizenship included a de facto right to mobility, then African Americans could not
be considered citizens. Although not formally written into the U.S. Constitution, numerous
Supreme Court rulings since 1857 have underpinned the right to mobility in the United States.
Yet the ability to be mobile in the United States has been fundamentally intertwined with the
construction of racial identities. It was the white settlers that were free to move westward, the
mobile nomadic lifestyles of the peoples they encountered being understood as primitive and
inferior. Native peoples subsequently became immobilized on reservations. Similarly, African
Americans in the era of slavery were immobilized on plantations and movement away from
plantation space was illicit, codified as illegal, and required the hidden networks of the Under-
ground Railroad. An African American moving through white American spaces faced often
deadly consequences. African Americans should, in the parlance of the times, ‘know their
place’ and not have the ambition, or the right, to move freely around the USA. To explore these
contentions, I draw on four landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that elaborate on the
mobility, or curtailment thereof, of African Americans in the United States.
  • African American,
  • civil rights,
  • race,
  • slavery,
  • Supreme Court
Publication Date
Citation Information
Mobilities, 5: 3, 331 — 347