Denmark Vesey spent his childhood traveling throughout the Caribbean as an enslaved black servant of a white sea captain, then worked for the captain as a house servant in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Vesey eventually started a family, fathered three children and, in 1799, purchased his freedom with $1500 won in a lottery. His family remained enslaved.
Over the next decade, Mr. Vesey worked as a carpenter and co-founded an African Methodist Episcopal church. In 1820, Charleston authorities ordered the closure of Mr. Vesey’s church. Angered by the closure, fed up with the continued enslavement of his children, and inspired by the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Mr. Vesey began planning a rebellion to free enslaved black people in Charleston. The attack was planned for the second week of July 1822.
Mr. Vesey modeled his plan after the Haitian Revolution by exhorting his followers to kill their masters, free other enslaved blacks in the city, and sail to Haiti before whites could retaliate. On May 30, 1822, the plan was foiled when a black house servant named George Wilson informed his master of the pending revolt. Charleston authorities promptly arrested and interrogated dozens of suspected conspirators. Mr. Vesey was captured on June 22 and tortured but he refused to identify his comrades.
A total of 131 men was arrested; 67 were convicted and 35, including Denmark Vesey, were executed. The city destroyed Mr. Vesey’s church building. Mr. Vesey and his followers inspired abolitionists and black soldiers through the Civil War.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.