Black people aren’t free to travel the highways, lanes and roads of Tennessee, according to state government and its rows of officials and officers.
By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7
They are told they cannot be on the open road without a master’s license. The master is no longer a slave-owner and planter, but the modern state and its department of safety.
Now there’s a difference between the law as it is, and its enforcement in Tennessee and other states of the hallowed American union. But if enforcement is the actual “law” to black people, it shows they have gained only slightly from slave days.
Dred Scott cements licensed ‘travel’
The notorious Dred Scott ruling in the U.S. supreme court tells about the liberty of travel in reverse, declaring that blacks must remain subjugated because if they were free they would be seen on the roads, paths and pikes of 1850s America, without having to account for themselves to anybody.
The opinion by Chief Justice Roger Taney in 1856 justifies their enslavement under the concept of state sovereignty and respect for states’ rights. Justice Taney explains that if blacks were viewed as citizens and not chattels, they would be free to travel.
He is horrified.
The nation’s founders “cannot be supposed that they intended to secure to them rights, and privileges, and rank, in the new political body throughout the Union, which every one of them denied within the limits of its own dominion.”
Judge Taney says the slavery of the black man is for his own benefit, and for his own safety.
“For if they were so received, and entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, it would exempt them from the operation of the special laws and from the police regulations which they considered to be necessary for their own safety.”
Seeing black people traveling freely — and not under license — is beyond imagination.
“It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognised as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished” [italics added].
Judge Taney rightly connects the free use of the roads with other liberties such as public meetings, and these he insists be denied to blacks to maintain an orderly society.
To grant free travel implies they would have other liberties, as well: “[A]nd it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.”
Today, state-created privileges
The state’s system of licensure against the right to travel — its conversion into a state-owned privilege — is inherently discriminatory and racist. It’s racist in effect. From the point of origin, it is progressive and subordinates the people to the state administration. Law enforcement in Tennessee forces everyone into commerce, and under the authority of the transportation code in Tenn. Code Ann. Title 55.
If one goes about in a car, one can insure oneself if one can afford it. In commerce, insurance is mandatory and can be expensive. It is compulsory for all common carriers, which is to say everybody who gets a driver license and registers his car as a commercial conveyance for the purpose of making private gain from the use of the roadway. That’s everybody.
The state’s commercial transportation regime has effectively obliterated the right to travel that Justice Taney says belongs to free people. Without the liberty of movement, a people is enslaved.