Today is 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and seems like a good time to dispel some common historical myths:
Myth: The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery and freed all Black people who were enslaved
Truth: The Emancipation Proclamation signed on January 1st, 1863 stated that slaves were to be freed in rebellion states. The proclamation did not address slavery in the Border States that did not secede from the union. Although, the proclamation went into effect on January 1st, it was largely unenforceable and many millions of Black people were still in bondage. In fact, in the state of Texas, Black people were still enslaved until June 19th, 1865, a full two and half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Myth: Abraham Lincoln was an abolitionist or an anti-racist.
Truth: In 1858 Lincoln said the following: “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—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
He also said this:
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
Myth: After the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment, Black people were given the right to freedom, right to citizenship, and the right to vote.
Truth: After the passage of 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment, states and localities passed heinous laws to not only restrict and prevent Black people from exercising their right to vote or enjoy the rights of full citizenship, but they even passed laws to legally re-enslave Black people. The 13th amendment does not outright end slavery it states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
So in addition to the horrible practice of sharecropping, states passed laws to convict and arrest Black people of all kinds of ridiculous violations such as “selling cotton after sunset” and then placed steep fines for the crimes. (Read “Slavery by Another Name” by Douglas A. Blackmon) If they couldn’t pay the fine, they were leased (sold) to private businesses as laborers (i.e. slaves). This practice of convict leasing persisted until the 1940s and 1950s.
I would also like to remind people that the current, racist criminal justice system as Michelle Alexander writes in her book “The New Jim Crow” is creating a literal caste system in the United States in which Black and Brown youth are being arrested at extraordinarily high rates and placed in a permanent underclass. Most shockingly, there are currently more Black people in the criminal justice system then were enslaved during the height of slavery in the United States.
myth: slavery never existed in free states
truth: many states admitted to the Union as “free states” (ie states in which slavery was banned or otherwise not present) were anything but. these semantics had more to do with regional political sentiment re: federalism (and, as primarily Western states, who they would side with in the event of a North-South civil war) than anything else.
myth: the 13th amendment applied to American Indians
truth: Indians were enslaved by white settlers in the American West through the early 20th century. in many cases, they were bought and sold in state government-regulated markets; for example, under the California Act for the Government and Protection of Indians (extended in 1863, in effect at least another decade), children could be kept as slaves up until the age of 35, and young girls were often sold on a sliding scale determined by sexual appeal. Indian parents were systematically murdered by state militia, which apprehended Indian children as wards of the state to be sold for profit.