Skip to main content

Search the Special Collections and Archives Portal

"And Justice for All": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On Black individuals being suspects and targets.


Digital ID



man000975. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


This material is made available to facilitate private study, scholarship, or research. It may be protected by copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity rights, or other interests not owned by UNLV. Users are responsible for determining whether permissions are necessary from rights owners for any intended use and for obtaining all required permissions. Acknowledgement of the UNLV University Libraries is requested. For more information, please see the UNLV Special Collections policies on reproduction and use ( or contact us at

Standardized Rights Statement

Digital Provenance

Digitized materials: physical originals can be viewed in Special Collections and Archives reading room

Digital Processing Note

OCR transcription





John Punch and two others ran away from the plantation on which they worked. All three were indentured servants who had contracted, voluntarily or otherwise, to worked for a period of from five to seven years. Once the contracted period would have ended they each would've been given their freedom. Such people as they were sometimes referred to as bondsmen and there was no negativity attached to either term.
The year was 1640 and the plantation sent a group of men to apprehend the three and to bring them back. They were caught and brought back and they were punished. Two, both white, were given additional months to serve out their contracts. John Punch, the lone black man, received a punishment of being assigned to lifetime servitude.
If we wish to reach back into our history--the history of our presence here in this country--for a beginning point for differential treatment by existing judicial systems in regards to blacks and whites, we may well decide that the John Punch case—all those many years ago--set a standard by which we are still governed today.
Those early seventeenth century plantations were the basis of the early economic system which existed in America. They were the businesses and they were run by America's first entreprenuers. We've all heard about the reasons why those first foreign settlers came to America and we salute them for taking the necessary steps to excape whatever forms of oppression they encountered in their native lands. Once here, however, many of them became as intolerant of others as those back home had been intolerant of them.
Those plantations—those businesses—relied on their labor supply for success. That has always been the case in the relationship between management and labor. Management's interest in protecting labor has less to do with protecting the wellbeing of labor as opposed to protecting its availability
to produceM
Punch, in 1640, became the first slave in English North America. By the close of that century, slavery had replaced indenture servitude as the primary labor system throughout the English colonies. As the number of Africans increased from colony to colony, the necessity for controls also increased. There was no doubt in any slaveholder or otherwise free person that those who were enslaved were not happy with their condition. After all, they could imagine themselves in such a condition and they knew that they would not like it and would do whatever was necessary to change it; flight, fight, burn, kill — whatever means necessary.
With their historic understanding of the need to be free which is possessed by all human beings, they took steps to ensure that their captives would have little opportunity for such freedom. From colony to colony "black codes" or "slave codes" were instituted. These laws governed the activities, behavior and treatment of people of color. As slavery diminished in the northern colonies/ states, it intensified in the south. Along with that intensification came an intensification of brutality of treatment. Slaves were unprotected. They could be beaten, maimed, raped, or even killed without anything being done about it. The accepted mentality was that they were not human but merely pieces of property.
It was during the last quarter of the eighteenth century that they began to believe that their condition would improve. With the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which did not quibble on the matter of equality, black people thought that finally they were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That thought was fortified as the Revolutionary War got underway and they were eventually allowed to participate with the promise of their freedom. Those promises were forgotten even before General Cornwallis' forces were out of sight of Yorktown at the close of the war.
The first quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed an ever increasing number of slave revolts all of which were suppressed. Those rebellions prompted the development arid .enlargement of "paddy riders" or night patrols on the plantations. These equated to the first well organized security guard systems in the region. Those policemen's job was to protect the plantations, the owners and their families and the business of raising cotton. Any slave who sought freedom was in violation of the law. The idea that the quest for freedom in a democracy could be in violation of the law serves to illustrate the hyprocracy of the times. Still, it provides us a clear image of the early relationship of law enforcement and black people.
The second quarter of the nineteenth century is characterized by increasing evidences of slaves running away. Initially the practice was haphazard but as mid-century approached the development of the Underground Railroad had expedited the excape of thousands of slaves. Technically, those runaways were not slaves. The 1787 Constitution had provided in Section 9 of Article I that "The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight —" It is generally accepted that this provision allowed twenty more years in which slaves could legally be brought into the country. After 1808 finally arrived slaves were illegally brought into the country. Those from whom they excaped represented evil, Ahriman, Moriarty; the slaves--good, Ahura Mazda, Holmes.
As the slaves ran the plantation owners sent posses after them and when they were caught, wherever that might be, they were returned to the plantation where they were punished and then put back to work. Those who ran away a second time might have a foot severed or worse. Even when they escaped to places where slavery was not permitted, the residents of those places surrendered the runaways and thereby revealed their complicity in the
evil practice of slavery.
Neither local, state or federal law provided active protection for either slaves or free blacks. Those of the latter group, wherever they might have resided, were always fearful of being kidnapped and sold into slavery. In the minds of many, if they could not readily provide evidence of manumission or that they had been born free, they were considered slaves and runaways at that. Being perceived in such a manner made them targets of any law enforcement agency anywhere. The fact of their blackness made them suspects. In many instances, even today, that perception has not changed.