Monday, July 09, 2012

Shall A Black Man Drink at a White Man's Bar?

How so very Canadian, our Rosa Parks seems to be have been a man called Jacob Francis who went to court to protect his right to be served a drink.   This had been an ongoing issue for four years in Victoria, Francis took a case forward in the spring of 1860 as a civil case but he lost.

Jacob Francis was a black resident of Victoria who used the courts to fight against discrimination.  He was not only involved with this court case about a bar, but he was also active in ensuring churches and schools were open to black people.  He also tried to get black men to be allowed to serve in fire companies, as a consequence the Victoria Pioneer Rifles were formed as a way for blacks to serve the colony.    Francis also tried to be elected to a seat in the Vancouver Island Legislative Assembly in 1866 but was not allowed to run for office.

This comes the June 28th 1862 edition of the British Colonist.

Yesterday Morning the complaint of Mr Jacob Francis, the colored man who was refused a drink at the bar of the Bank Exchange Saloon,was brought forward in the Police Court. The complaint alleges that complainant was refused a glass of liquor at;the Bank Exchange for money.  Mr. Ring appeared for Mr. Francis, and Mr. Bishop for Mr. Lovett, the proprietor of the Saloon. Mr. Ring stated that the summons in this case only put into his hand on Thursday and that it had been issued by the complainant without conference  with counsel.  Had Francis advised with counsel he would have been told that the proper course to  be pursued was to institute a civil suit against the defendant, who, as a licensed innkeeper, was guilty of a breach of contract with the public in refusing to serve complainant, and damages might be recovered . Defendant had an unquestionable right to keep one apartment for the accommodation of black men, and another for white men; he could keep as many apartments as he chooses, and divide his customers into as many classes as he saw fit; but he could not refuse a respectable person drink on account of his color. The colored population had a right to protection; the bar was a public bar, and they were entitled to a supply of refreshment when they saw fit to ask for it; but the part of the house in which it was to be served them, rested entirely with the proprietor. 

Mr. Bishop said that his client was charged with an offence against the law as a licensed hotelkeeper, and no order had been issued for the production of the license; except the license was brought into Court, the case could not proceed.

Mr. Ring thought that due notice was given by service of summons . Ho wanted to see this troublesome question settled - now and forever - and thought if It was perfectly understood in future between the two classes that a portion of the building might be set aside for the accommodation of colored people that the case would be allowed to drop; but it carried to a higher court, heavy damages might be obtained against defendant . According to law any licensed hotelkeeper could say to a colored person or any one else: "You go into this room if you want a drink" or "go into that room." &c; but it was a breach of contract  with public to say "You shall not drink in my house."  If the case went on, he feared it would excite illfeeling between the
two classes, and he therefore trusted that it would be settled at once.

Mr. Bishop was equally anxious with his learned friend to ' promote good feeling between the white and colored races; but in this case Francis was fully aware that he would not be served before he
entered the saloon. The defendant had not been guilty of a breach of contract with the public in refusing the drink, and, as to , a civil suit , he quoted law to show that unless "special damages" were sustained by the party refused refreshment (such, for instance, as having to travel a long distance to another hotel ) no damages could lie against the defendant.  As the case was not properly before the court, he asked that it be dismissed.

Mr. Ring wished the case continued.

The Magistrate desired that the case might proceed since it was before the Court. He did not wish to encourage the bad feeling which at present existed in this colony between the whites and the blacks, and did not wish to see the badge of slavery placed on either party in a British colony.  One object he had in view was to procure the evidence of the respectable men who were in company with complainant when he was refused refreshment by defendant, in order that the Court might determine whether parties who insulted British subjects in the manner in which Francis complains should in future be licensed .

Messrs. King and Bihop both expressed themselves in favor of an arrangement being come to between the two classes which would put an end to all future trouble and the Magistrate finally postponed the hearing of the case until Friday, July 4th

The British Colonist has the details of the proceedings here.

The decision is reported in the July 5th edition with this as part of it (my emphasis):

A colored man, whether black, red or mottled, is in the eye of British Law, still a man, and as a man is entitled to all the rights and immunities that the Constitution and laws confer.  Any evasion or withholding of those rights, whether in a publicly licensed bar at the bar of the Supreme Court, is subversive of what is right, what has been sanctioned as right by immemorial usage.   If a right that the law confers on a colored man be denied to him, a public wrong is committed against the entire public, and, as a matter of course, when recourse is had to the courts, it is expected that the rights of the injured individual will be vindicated, no matter how important a personage may have denied that right.  We are glad then, that the vexed question, whether a colored man can enter a bar and call for a drink, like any one else, is virtually settled

In the early history of BC black people are a major part of society and are treated about as equal as you could possibly expect for the 19th century.   The formed the first military unit in BC and were allowed to vote in elections.   

Jacob Francis was living at the Bulls Head Hotel on Yates in 1863
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