Tag Archives: Emancipation Proclamation

On this Day … 8/15 ~~ Woodstock


The Woodstock festival opens in Bethel, New York

On this day in 1969, the Woodstock Music Festival opens on a patch of farmland in White Lake, a hamlet in the upstate New York town of Bethel.

Promoters John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang originally envisioned the festival as a way to raise funds to build a recording studio and rock-and-roll retreat near the town of Woodstock, New York. The longtime artists’ colony was already a home base for Bob Dylan and other musicians. Despite their relative inexperience, the young promoters managed to sign a roster of top acts, including the Jefferson Airplane, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and many more. Plans for the festival were on the verge of foundering, however, after both Woodstock and the nearby town of Wallkill denied permission to hold the event. Dairy farmer Max Yasgur came to the rescue at the last minute, giving the promoters access to his 600 acres of land in Bethel, some 50 miles from Woodstock.

Early estimates of attendance increased from 50,000 to around 200,000, but by the time the gates opened on Friday, August 15, more than 400,000 people were clamoring to get in. Those without tickets simply walked through gaps in the fences, and the organizers were eventually forced to make the event free of charge. Folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens kicked off the event with a long set, and Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie also performed on Friday night.

Somewhat improbably, the chaotic gathering of half a million young “hippies” lived up to its billing of “Three Days of Peace and Music.” There were surprisingly few incidents of violence on the overcrowded grounds, and a number of musicians performed songs expressing their opposition to the Vietnam War.

Among the many great moments at the Woodstock Music Festival were career-making performances by up-and-coming acts like Santana, Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; the Who’s early-morning set featuring songs from their classic rock opera “Tommy”; and the closing set by Hendrix, which climaxed with an improvised solo guitar performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Though Woodstock had left its promoters nearly bankrupt, their ownership of the film and recording rights more than compensated for the losses after the release of a hit documentary film in 1970. Later music festivals inspired by Woodstock’s success failed to live up to its standard, and the festival still stands for many as a example of America’s 1960s youth counterculture at its best.

JUNETEENTH is coming – make your plans !!!


© JUNETEENTH.com

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.

Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order.

However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations.

And still, another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which or neither of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

General Order Number 3

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ – attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

Juneteenth Festivities and Food

A range of activities were provided to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball are just a few of the typical Juneteenth activities you may witness today. Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self improvement. Thus, often guest speakers are brought in and the elders are called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations.

Certain foods became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda-pop. More traditional and just as popular was the barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors – the newly emancipated African Americans, would have experienced during their ceremonies. Hence, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations.

Food was abundant because everyone prepared a special dish. Meats such as lamb, pork and beef which not available everyday were brought on this special occasion. A true Juneteenth celebrations left visitors well satisfied and with enough conversation to last until the next.

Dress was also an important element in early Juneteenth customs and is often still taken seriously, particularly by the direct descendants who can make the connection to this tradition’s roots. During slavery there were laws on the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of the enslaved. During the initial days of the emancipation celebrations, there are accounts of former slaves tossing their ragged garments into the creeks and rivers to adorn clothing taken from the plantations belonging to their former ‘masters’.

Juneteenth and Society

In the early years, little interest existed outside the African American community in participation in the celebrations. In some cases, there was outwardly exhibited resistance by barring the use of public property for the festivities. Most of the festivities found themselves out in rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding and barbecues. Often the church grounds was the site for such activities. Eventually, as African Americans became land owners, land was donated and dedicated for these festivities. One of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth was organized by Rev. Jack Yates. This fund-raising effort yielded $1000 and the purchase of Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas. In Mexia, the local Juneteenth organization purchased Booker T. Washington Park, which had become the Juneteenth celebration site in 1898. There are accounts of Juneteenth activities being interrupted and halted by white landowners demanding that their laborers return to work. However, it seems most allowed their workers the day off and some even made donations of food and money. For decades these annual celebrations flourished, growing continuously with each passing year. In Booker T. Washington Park, as many as 20,000 African Americans once flowed through during the course of a week, making the celebration one of the state’s largest.

Juneteenth Celebrations Decline

Economic and cultural forces provided for a decline in Juneteenth activities and participants beginning in the early 1900’s. Classroom and textbook education in lieu of traditional home and family-taught practices stifled the interest of the youth due to less emphasis and detail on the activities of former slaves. Classroom text books proclaimed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 as the date signaling the ending of slavery – and little or nothing on the impact of General Granger’s arrival on June 19th.

The Depression forced many people off the farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date. Thus, unless June 19th fell on a weekend or holiday, there were very few participants available. July 4th was the already established Independence holiday and a rise in patriotism steered more toward this celebration.

Resurgence

The Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s yielded both positive and negative results for the Juneteenth celebrations. While it pulled many of the African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. This was evidenced by student demonstrators involved in the Atlanta civil rights campaign in the early 1960’s, whom wore Juneteenth freedom buttons. Again in 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C.. Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activity. In fact, two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after this March are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Texas Blazes the Trail

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.

Juneteenth In Modern Times

Today, Juneteenth is enjoying a phenomenal growth rate within communities and organizations throughout the country. Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others have begun sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities. In recent years, a number of local and national Juneteenth organizations have arisen to take their place along side older organizations – all with the mission to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture.

Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.

The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Respect and appreciation for all of our differences grow out of exposure and working together. Getting involved and supporting Juneteenth celebrations creates new bonds of friendship and understanding among us. This indeed, brightens our future – and that is the Spirit of Juneteenth.

History of Juneteenth ©JUNETEENTH.com

divider.gif (535 bytes)

Black History~ Beyond The Emancipation Proclamation — The 13th Amendment a journey in American History …from Lonnie Bunch,musem director,historian,author,lecturer


a repost from 2010  
National Museum of African American History and Culture Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page From Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.

A Page From Our American Story

13th Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States

13th Amendment to US Constitution
Congress, Wednesday, February 01, 1865 (Joint Resolution Submitting

13th Amendment to the States; signed by Abraham Lincoln and Congress)
The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress Series 3. General Correspondence. 1837-1897.
Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2:

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

William Seward
William Seward
(19th century photograph)

On December 18, 1865, 145 years ago, Secretary of State William Seward announced to the world that the United States had constitutionally abolished slavery — the 13th Amendment had been ratified.

The ratification of the 13th Amendment, the first of the Reconstruction Amendments, was truly the beginning of the end of one our nation’s ugliest and saddest eras. Historically, however, it has always been overshadowed by President Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.”

While Lincoln’s initial pronouncement to his Cabinet on September 22, 1862, formally tied slavery to the Civil War, he repeatedly stated that preserving the Union was his primary objective — not ending slavery.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America
Abraham Lincoln,
16th President of the
United States of America.
Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs
online catalog
.

In essence, Lincoln’s proclamation — officially signed and issued on January 1, 1863 — freed only slaves in Confederate states where he and the Union Army could not force the issue, but allowed slavery to continue in states where the Union could impose its will.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a work of political irony. Lincoln understood slavery was wrong, but did not want to anger the border states that had remained supportive of the Union.

However, the Emancipation Proclamation served as a catalyst for abolitionists in Congress to start working in earnest to end slavery in every state.

It began on December 14, 1863, when House Republican James Ashley of Ohio introduced an amendment to ban slavery throughout the United States. Later that month, James Wilson of Iowa introduced another amendment calling for an end to slavery.

Less than a month later, on January 11, 1864, Missouri Senator John Henderson, a member of the War Democrats — Democrats who supported the Civil War and opposed the Copperheads and Peace Democrats — submitted a joint resolution also wanting an amendment to end slavery.

Now, as civil war ravaged the nation, the legislative battle on Capitol Hill to end the injustice of slavery and treat African Americans as equal citizens was launched on two fronts — the House of Representatives and the US Senate.

On February 10, 1864, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed and brought the 13th Amendment to the full Senate. While in the House, one week after the Senate was moving ahead, Representatives took their first vote on the measure. The House vote well short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass, and it was clear the anti-slavery supporters in the House were in for a long struggle.

On the other hand, the Senate moved quickly. Senators wasted little time following the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation for passage. On April 8, 1864, the amendment was overwhelmingly passed, 38-6, eight votes more than constitutionally required.

Four months after the first House vote, in June, 1864, the House tried for a second time to pass the amendment. The vote was closer, but again the abolitionists failed to get the two-thirds majority they needed for passage.

Nicolay telegram announcing passage of 13th Amendment
John G. Nicolay to Abraham Lincoln,
Tuesday, January 31, 1865
(Telegram reporting passage of 13th Amendment
by Congress). The Abraham Lincoln Papers
at the Library of Congress. Series 1.
General Correspondence. 1833-1916.

The year drew to a close with Lincoln’s reelection. Yet the House had failed to produce a bill abolishing slavery. Lincoln’s patience with the House was reaching its end. At the same time, abolitionists declared his reelection as a mandate from the people to end slavery. More pressure was brought to bear on the hold-outs in the House to pass the bill.

At last, on January 31, 1865, the House passed the 13th Amendment. Though not needed, as a symbolic gesture of approval, President Lincoln signed the document and then sent it to the states for ratification.

Initially, ratification seemed a given. By the end of March, 19 states had voted for the amendment. Then the process bogged down, and by April 14, 1865, the date President Lincoln was assassinated, only 21 states were on board.

Suddenly, Vice President Andrew Johnson, himself a War Democrat from Tennessee, was in the White House. Johnson was staunchly pro-Union, but he was less passionate about ending slavery. At this point the question was how much support would he provide toward speeding the end of slavery? Abolitionists were relieved when Johnson used his power as the Chief Executive to force Southern states to ratify the amendment as part of his Reconstruction policy.

On December 6, 1865, nearly twelve months after President Lincoln had ceremoniously signed the document, Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment. The three-quarters of the states needed to make the amendment law had finally been reached, and shortly afterward Seward made his historic announcement.

Sadly, life for Black Americans did not meet the promise of freedom. Southern states adopted “Black Codes” and “Jim Crow laws” — rules and restrictions that by-passed constitutional requirements — and continued to treat African Americans as second class citizens.

The tumult and grassroots uprising that eventually spawned such famous legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a subject all its own. Today, however, let us remember the tremendous stride that America took 145 years ago with the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Together with the 14th Amendment that afforded African Americans citizenship, due process, and equal rights under the law and the 15th Amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote, a constitutional backbone was provided for what would become one of America’s greatest revolutions — the Civil Rights Movement.

Lonnie Bunch, Director All the best,
Lonnie Bunch
Director

The March on Washington by Linda Lacina …Black History is American History


Slideshow: Inspiring Words From the March on Washington

                                                            image credit: Walter P. Ruther Library

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. made his now legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.

That event on Aug. 28, 1963, drew 200,000 people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to press for issues that are just as relevant today, including civil liberties and a rise in the minimum wage. This week’s milestone gives us a chance to reacquaint ourselves with the great steps taken at this event as well as the inspiring words spoken and sung on that historic day. Below is a selection of inspiring excerpts from that day’s speeches and performances.

View As Slideshow

Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker, the world-renowned singer and actress, had long since adopted France as her homeland and had even joined the French Resistance. Still, she was an active supporter of the American civil rights movement and was the only woman to address the crowd at the National Mall. An excerpt of her remarks is below.

“You know, friends, that I do not lie to you when I tell you I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ’cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world.”

John Lewis
John Lewis

John Lewis, currently a U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, was 23 at the time of the March on Washington and the youngest speaker to come to the podium. He represented the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee as its chairman and was one of the original “big six” organizers of the march. An excerpt is below.

“To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually but we want to be free now. We are tired. We are tired of being beat by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again, and then you holler ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and we want it now.”

For a full transcript and audio, visit Open Vault.

Walter P. Reuther

Walter P. Reuther

                                                            image credit: Nate Fine

Walter P. Reuther, the UAW president, was no stranger to the era’s civil rights rallies. He’d accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. to events including one in Alabama where the crowd was doused by the police with fire hoses and King was placed in jail. After the demonstration, Reuther bailed him out.

Many civil rights mobilizers were labor activists and the UAW let planners for the March on Washington work out of its union halls and even paid for the event’s sound system. Below is an excerpt from Reuther’s remarks.

“I am for civil rights, as a matter of human decency, as a matter of common morality. But I am also for civil rights because I believe that freedom is an indivisible value that no one can be free unto himself. And when Bull Connor with his police dogs and fire hoses destroys freedom in Birmingham, he is destroying my freedom in Detroit. And let us keep in mind, since we are the strongest of the free nations of the world, since you cannot make your freedom secure, accepting as we make freedom universal, so all may enjoy its blessings, let us understand that we cannot defend freedom in Berlin, so long as we deny freedom in Birmingham.”

For a full transcript and audio, visit Open Vault.

James Farmer

James Farmer

                                                            image credit: jamesfarmerlectures.umwblogs.org

James Farmer was a prominent activist who organized the first 1961 Freedom Ride for desegregation and founded the Committee for Racial Equality. Like many protesters, Farmer was often arrested for his activist work and could not attend the March on Washington because he had been imprisoned for “disturbing the peace” in Plaquemine, La. In his absence, Floyd McKissick, the National Chairman of the Congress on Racial Equality, read Farmer’s prepared remarks. An excerpt is below.

“By marching on Washington, your trampin’ feet have spoken the message, the message of our struggle in Louisiana. You have given notice of the struggles of our people in Mississippi and Alabama too, and in California, and in New York, and Chicago, and in Brooklyn. You have come from all over the nation, and in one mighty voice, you have spoken to the nation.

You have also spoken to the world. You have said to the world by your presence here, as our successful direct action in numberless citizens has said that in the age of thermal nuclear bombs, violence is outmoded to the solution of the problems of men.”

A full transcript can be found in the archives at The King Center.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

                                                            image credit: National Archives and Records Administration

Singers Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were both prominent in the Civil Rights movement and performed a number of folk songs at the march. As a solo, Dylan performed his then unreleased Only a Pawn in Their Game, about the assassination of activist Medgar Evans.

Below is an excerpt from “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” performed by Baez and Dylan with its songwriter, Len Chandler.

“Got my hand on the freedom plow
Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on!”

Watch the performance on this compilation video at the 16:30 mark. 

Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson was considered the greatest gospel singer in the world in her time. She was active in the civil rights movement performing at events that served as percursors to the March on Washington, including the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957 where the above photo was taken. She addressed the crowd at the March on Washington with two songs, “I’ve Been ‘Buked, and I’ve Been Scorned” and “How I Got Over,” an excerpt of which is below.

“Coming from the north, south, east, and west
On their way to a land of rest
Lord, we gonna join the heavenly choir
We gon’ sing and never get tired”

To watch video of the performance, refer to this YouTube video.

Rabbi Joachim Prinz

Rabbi Joachim Prinz

                                                            image credit: American Jewish Archives

Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who arrived in the U.S. after being expelled from Germany by the Nazi Government, became president of the American Jewish Congress and active in civil rights issues. He was a founding leader of the March on Washington and one of several religious leaders to speak at the Lincoln Memorial that day. He spoke just minutes before Martin Luther King Jr. took the podium. An excerpt is below.

“As Jews, we recall our own history of slavery, our own experience of life in the ghetto. Like the Negro, we learned that a proclamation of emancipation was not enough.To know freedom, we had to free ourselves. To enjoy the blessings of liberty we had to liberate ourselves.”

A full transcript can be read in the archives of The King Center. 

Eva Jessye Choir
Eva Jessye Choir

Eva Jessye was a composer and conductor who worked for Gertrude Stein and was the music director for George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. She used spirituals often in her work including at the March on Washington. An excerpt of the song Freedom that she and her choir performed that day is below.

[Chorus] Freedom is a thing worth singing about
Spread the message far and near

[Chorus] Freedom is a thing worth shouting about
The time is now. The place is here.

An excerpt of the perfomance can be seen on this complilation video at the 21:45 mark. 

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

                                                            image credit: Jeff Singer

Martin Luther King Jr. was a clergyman and civil rights leader who supported non-violent activism. Versions of his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington had been presented at other rallies, including one in Detroit just two months earlier. However, a prompting by Mahalia Jackson to “Tell them about the dream!” encouraged King to shift from his prepared remarks, contributing to what is arguably one of the most famous speeches in American history. An excerpt is below.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.”

For a full transcript of the speech and audio, refer to Open Vault.

Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was instrumental in pulling together in less than eight weeks one of the largest protest marches of its time. His remarks at the March on Washington listed the event’s demands, such as school desegregation and a ban on housing discrimination, a list that would later be brought to President John F. Kennedy. Below is an excerpt of the pledge he asked event-goers to make to carry the movement’s momentum to their hometowns.

“I pledge that I will not relax until victory is won. I pledge that I will join and support all actions undertaken in good faith in accord with the time-honored Democratic tradition of non-violent protest, of peaceful assembly, and petition, and of redress through the courts and the legislative process.”

Refer to Open Vault for audio and a complete transcript of the speech.

Dr. Benjamin E. Mays
Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

Mays was the president of Morehouse College and a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. He was also a minister and read the benediction, or blessing, at the event’s closing. An excerpt is below.

“In peace and in war thou hast blessed America as the nations of the earth look to the United States for moral and democratic leadership. May we not fail them, nor thee. Please God, in this moment of crisis and indecision give the United States wisdom, give her courage, give her faith to meet the challenge of this hour. Guide, teach, sustain and bless the United States, and help the weary travelers to overcome, someday soon. Amen.”

A complete transcript of the benediction can be found on Open Vault. 

Black History Month

5 Things You May Not Know About Lincoln, Slavery and Emancipation – Sarah Pruitt


slavery29.8MillionSeptember 22 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, in which he declared that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
To commemorate the occasion, we invite you to consider some surprising facts about Lincoln’s views on slavery, and the complex process that led him to issue the document he later called “the central act of my administration, and the greatest event of the 19th century.
Depiction by Francis Bicknell Carpenter of Abraham Lincoln’s first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, in July 1862. It hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

1. Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist.  Lincoln did believe that slavery was morally wrong, but there was one big problem: It was sanctioned by the highest law in the land, the Constitution. The nation’s founding fathers, who also struggled with how to address slavery, did not explicitly write the word “slavery” in the Constitution, but they did include key clauses protecting the institution, including a fugitive slave clause and the three-fifths clause, which allowed Southern states to count slaves for the purposes of representation in the federal government. In a three-hour speech in Peoria, Illinois, in the fall of 1854, Lincoln presented more clearly than ever his moral, legal and economic opposition to slavery—and then admitted he didn’t know exactly what should be done about it within the current political system.

Abolitionists, by contrast, knew exactly what should be done about it: Slavery should be immediately abolished, and freed slaves should be incorporated as equal members of society. They didn’t care about working within the existing political system, or under the Constitution, which they saw as unjustly protecting slavery and slave owners. Leading abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called the Constitution “a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell,” and went so far as to burn a copy at a Massachusetts rally in 1854. Though Lincoln saw himself as working alongside the abolitionists on behalf of a common anti-slavery cause, he did not count himself among them. Only with emancipation, and with his support of the eventual 13th Amendment, would Lincoln finally win over the most committed abolitionists.

2. Lincoln didn’t believe blacks should have the same rights as whites. Though Lincoln argued that the founding fathers’ phrase “All men are created equal” applied to blacks and whites alike, this did not mean he thought they should have the same social and political rights. His views became clear during an 1858 series of debates with his opponent in the Illinois race for U.S. Senate, Stephen Douglas, who had accused him of supporting “negro equality.” In their fourth debate, at Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, 1858, Lincoln made his position clear. “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,” he began, going on to say that he opposed blacks having the right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office and to intermarry with whites. What he did believe was that, like all men, blacks had the right to improve their condition in society and to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In this way they were equal to white men, and for this reason slavery was inherently unjust.

Like his views on emancipation, Lincoln’s position on social and political equality for African-Americans would evolve over the course of his presidency. In the last speech of his life, delivered on April 11, 1865, he argued for limited black suffrage, saying that any black man who had served the Union during the Civil War should have the right to vote.

3. Lincoln thought colonization could resolve the issue of slavery.  For much of his career, Lincoln believed that colonization—or the idea that a majority of the African-American population should leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America—was the best way to confront the problem of slavery. His two great political heroes, Henry Clay and Thomas Jefferson, had both favored colonization; both were slave owners who took issue with aspects of slavery but saw no way that blacks and whites could live together peaceably. Lincoln first publicly advocated for colonization in 1852, and in 1854 said that his first instinct would be “to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia” (the African state founded by the American Colonization Society in 1821).

Nearly a decade later, even as he edited the draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in August of 1862, Lincoln hosted a delegation of freed slaves at the White House in the hopes of getting their support on a plan for colonization in Central America. Given the “differences” between the two races and the hostile attitudes of whites towards blacks, Lincoln argued, it would be “better for us both, therefore, to be separated.” Lincoln’s support of colonization provoked great anger among black leaders and abolitionists, who argued that African-Americans were as much natives of the country as whites, and thus deserved the same rights. After he issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln never again publicly mentioned colonization, and a mention of it in an earlier draft was deleted by the time the final proclamation was issued in January 1863.

4. Emancipation was a military policy.  As much as he hated the institution of slavery, Lincoln didn’t see the Civil War as a struggle to free the nation’s 4 million slaves from bondage. Emancipation, when it came, would have to be gradual, and the important thing to do was to prevent the Southern rebellion from severing the Union permanently in two. But as the Civil War entered its second summer in 1862, thousands of slaves had fled Southern plantations to Union lines, and the federal government didn’t have a clear policy on how to deal with them. Emancipation, Lincoln saw, would further undermine the Confederacy while providing the Union with a new source of manpower to crush the rebellion.

In July 1862 the president presented his draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Secretary of State William Seward urged him to wait until things were going better for the Union on the field of battle, or emancipation might look like the last gasp of a nation on the brink of defeat. Lincoln agreed and returned to edit the draft over the summer. On September 17 the bloody Battle of Antietam gave Lincoln the opportunity he needed. He issued the preliminary proclamation to his cabinet on September 22, and it was published the following day. As a cheering crowd gathered at the White House, Lincoln addressed them from a balcony: “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake … It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment on it.”

5. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t actually free all of the slaves. Since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a military measure, it didn’t apply to border slave states like Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, all of which had remained loyal to the Union. Lincoln also exempted selected areas of the Confederacy that had already come under Union control in hopes of gaining the loyalty of whites in those states. In practice, then, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t immediately free a single slave, as the only places it applied were places where the federal government had no control—the Southern states currently fighting against the Union.

Despite its limitations, Lincoln’s proclamation marked a crucial turning point in the evolution of Lincoln’s views of slavery, as well as a turning point in the Civil War itself. By war’s end, some 200,000 black men would serve in the Union Army and Navy, striking a mortal blow against the institution of slavery and paving the way for its eventual abolition by the 13th Amendment.

Black History Month