A Brief History of the Hayes-Tilden Compromise

In order to understand the pathology of memorializing treasonous Confederates, look to the Hayes-Tilden Compromise (1876-77), which in effect ended the Reconstruction years (1865-1877), when Black people made tremendous strides, politically, economically, and socially, a mere 12 years after 246 years of indentured servitude and slavery, since Africans landed in Jamestown Virginia in 1619, or as Malcolm X quipped, the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on Black people.

The Hayes-Tilden Compromise was just one more obstacle, or rock, placed in front of Black people and Black progress. It was just one more of many compromises of Black rights in American history. And when we look at the zealous defense of these Confederate memorials, monuments and statues, even by the person currently occupying the White House because of a skewed electoral system, we get a clear picture into America’s heart of whiteness. In part, this rapprochement with the treasonous former Confederate States of America was a nod to white harmony and hegemony. What other explanation is there? Never in the history of warfare, specifically a Civil War, did the losers get to erect memorials, monuments and statues, thus reestablishing an unchecked reign of terror against the very subjects at the center of the war.

“War is hell,” Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman said. He added, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it. Those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.” He was referring to the Confederacy. Instead, more than 150 years after the end of the American Civil War, we are still fighting this War against Confederate memorials, monuments and statues because of the Hayes-Tilden Compromise, instead of the “total war” advocated by General Sherman.

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Old Confederate Soldiers Never Die

Old Confederate soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old Confederate soldiers never die,
They simply become memorialized.

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The “Cancel-culture” Conundrum

If I hear one more white person say “Cancel-culture…”

“Cancel-culture” is the latest buzz term being used by Trumpeteers, including Ivanka Trump, and as with almost everything that comes out of the Oval Office in these times, it’s a false narrative.

Cancel-culture is practically wiping out the indigenous peoples in what we call the Americas. Cancel-culture is destroying the culture of Africans in the Diaspora, specifically those treated as human cargo during the hundreds of years of the transatlantic slave trade. Cancel-culture is destroying the Black Wall Street and killing hundreds of Black people. Cancel-culture is the Southern pastime of lynching Black people. Cancel-culture is monolingual gringos telling native Spanish-speaking peoples to “speak English!” Cancel-culture is second and third generation Europeans telling Africans from the Diaspora with roots buried deeply in American soil for at least 400 years to “Go back to Africa!”

“Cancel-culture” is certainly not what some white people are complaining about, including the current conversation about removing Confederate monuments, memorials and statues, which never should have been when the treasonous Confederacy lost the American Civil War more than 150 years ago. At its core, the screaming of “Cancel-culture” is the pathetic cry of some white people who long for the “good ol’ days” when they could say and do anything, including killing Black people, with impunity.

What has been canceled is white immunity and white impunity, and white impunity is one of the bulwarks of white privilege, rooted in pseudo-theories of white supremacy. And nothing bothers white supremacists and white nationalists more than not being able to say anything without being fact-checked or challenged, or do anything without being held accountable. One of the most recent examples in the news is the confrontation between U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio -Cortez and U.S. Rep Ted Yoho attempting to “cancel” an outspoken woman of color with his “language of violence.”

When Ivanka Trump was “canceled” as the keynote commencement speaker at WSU Tech in Kansas, she was actually included on a menu of speakers, more like a side dish of Goya beans instead of the main dish, students would have the option to listen to. The cancel-culturalists though only want their narrative to be heard, above all others.

But here’s some non-“fake news” for Ivanka. Being the daughter of the Donald, who is currently occupying the White House, is not a credential to be a keynote speaker at any college, perhaps with the exception being the now defunct Trump University. In fact, her appointment by her father as a White House Advisor is not only the grossest form of nepotism, but it’s also the very definition of “white privilege.”

White privilege is not a credential. It is not earned. It is bestowed upon a person by virtue of his or her race (read white in America), and social and financial standing, often born in to. But even the “lowest” white American, socially and economically, can look to white privilege, even if it simply manifests itself in acting out based on theories of white supremacy, what we are seeing with all the actions of these “Karens.”

“Cancel-culture” is a conundrum because it is just one more thing packaged by and promoted by some white people, tightly wrapped in a “little white lie.”

If I hear one more white person say “Cancel-culture…”

Posted in Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass, ezwwaters, Lest We Forget, Politics, race, Slavery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Comparison of New York State Laws and Regulations and Slave Codes

In the mid-1980s, while doing research on an essay, which I would entitle, “From the Plantation to the Penitentiary,” I came across something startling.  I had already seen the connection between slavery and imprisonment, from the very beginning of the end of slavery, right in the 1865 Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to wit, “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.”

This “loophole” in the Thirteenth Amendment that declared “slavery or involuntary servitude” illegal “except as a punishment for crime” was used to re-enslave Black people.

“Theories” of Black criminality did not truly develop until after Reconstruction (1877), to justify the new penal slavery, when all the gains Blacks had achieved through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments became null and void with the Hayes-Tilden Compromise (1876-77), which marks the end of Reconstruction and the “rise of the South.”  (To understand Confederate monuments, memorials and statues, look at the aftermath of Reconstruction.)  Additionally, new laws were passed and/or stringently enforced to ensnare Black people.

Today, what we term “mass incarceration,” better described as “hyper incarceration,” since Black people are grossly disproportionately imprisoned, not the masses, has its origins in that loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment.  From the plantation to the penitentiary, from peonage to convict leasing to chain gangs to private prisons, to the various wars on crime….

The re-enslavement of Black people through the prison system was not only insidious, but it was also by design.

While researching the re-enslavement of Black people, I took a look at the Slave Codes.  I then looked at New York’s Corrections Law, and New York’s Prison Rules and Regulations.  It was as if I had discovered the Rosetta Stone!  Laws that were operative in the New York prison system in the mid-1980s had the exact same language as the Slave Codes!  See below chart, A Comparison of New York State Laws and Regulations and Slave Codes.

New York State Laws and Regulations Slave Codes*
Correction Law ⸹170(1). Contracts prohibited. The commissioner of correction shall not, nor shall any other authority whatsoever, make any contract by which the labor or time of any prisoner in any state prison, reformatory, penitentiary of jail in this state, or the product or profit of his work, shall be contracted, let, farmed out, given or sold to any person, firm, association or corporation; except that the convicts in said penal institutions may work for, and the products of their labor may be disposed of to, the state or any political division thereof or for or to any public institution owned or managed and controlled by the state or an political division thereof. Art. 174. The slave is incapable of making any kind of contract, except those which relate to his own emancipation. (LA)


Art. I, ⸹1005. No master, overseer, or other person having the charge of a slave, must permit such slave to hire himself to another person, or to hire his own time, or to go at large, unless in a corporate town, by consent of the authorities thereof, evidenced by an ordinance of the corporation. (AL)


XXXIII. [N]o owner, master or mistress of any slave…shall permit or suffer any of his, her or their slaves to go and work out of their respective houses or families, without a ticket in writing under pain of forfeiting the sum of current money, for every such offence. (SC)

Civil Rights Law ⸹79(1). Forfeiture of office and suspension of civil rights.   Except as provided in subdivision two a sentence of imprisonment in a state correctional institution for any term less than for life or a sentence of imprisonment in a state correctional institution for an indeterminate term, having a minimum of one day and a maximum of natural life, forfeits all the public offices, and suspends, during the term of the sentence, all the civil rights, and all private trusts, authority, or powers of, or held by, the person sentenced. Art. 177. The slave is in capable of exercising any public office or private trust. (LA)
Department of Correctional Services Directive #4201.   The inmate shall write to the Superintendent expressing an intent to marry. Art. 182. Slaves cannot marry without the consent of their masters, and their marriages do not produce any of the civil effects which result from such contract.   (LA)
Standards of Inmate Behavior, 104.10. Inmates shall not conspire or take any action which is intended to or results in the takeover of any area of the facility, or, acting in a group, engage in any violent conduct involving threat of violence.


Standards of Inmate Behavior, 104.11. Inmates shall not engage in any violent conduct or conduct involving the threat of violence.


Standards of Inmate Behavior, 104.12. Inmates shall not lead, organize, participate, or urge other inmates to participate in work-stoppages, sit-ins, lock-ins, or other action which may be detrimental to the order of the facility.


Standards of Inmate Behavior, 104.13. Inmates shall not engage in conduct which disturbs the order of the facility.

Art. I, ⸹1015. Riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, trespasses, and seditious speeches by a slave, are punished, by the direction of any justice before whom he may be carried. (AL)
Standards of Inmate Behavior, 105.10.   Unauthorized Assembly or Activity.   The unauthorized assembly of inmates in groups is prohibited. The size of the group is determined by local policy (generally five people). Art. I, ⸹1020. Not more than five male slaves shall assemble together at any place off the plantation, or place to which they belong, with or without passes or permits to be there, unless attended by the master or overseer of such slave, or unless such slaves are attending the public worship of God, held by white persons. (AL)
Standards of Inmate Behavior, 105.11. Religious services, speeches or addresses by inmates other than those approved by the Superintendent or designee are prohibited. Art. I, ⸹1022. Any slave who preaches, exhorts, or harangues any assembly of slaves, or of slaves and free persons of color, without a license to preach or exhort from some religious society of the neighborhood, and in the presence of five slave-holders, must – be punished. (AL)
Standards of Inmate Behavior, 109.13. Inmates who are on outside work assignments such as community service projects, or outside ground details shall not leave their assigned area. Art. I, ⸹1008. No slave must go beyond the limits of the plantation on which he resides, without a pass, or some letter or token from his master or overseer, giving him authority to go and return from a certain place. (AL)
Standards of Inmate Behavior, 113.10. Inmates shall not make, possess, sell or exchange any item or contraband that may be classified as a weapon by description, use or appearance.


Standards of Inmate Behavior, 113.18. Inmates shall not be in possession of tools without authorization.

Art. I, ⸹1012. No slave can keep or carry a gun, powder, shot, club or other weapon, except the tools given him to work with, unless ordered by his master or overseer to carry such weapon from one place to another. (AL)

When we look at the above chart, it is patently clear that the same methods of social control of Black people who were enslaved in America were and are used in America’s prison system today.

Later, Andrew Hacker’s 1992 book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, confirmed my suspicions.  Hacker posits that America’s criminal legal system is used as a system of social control of Black people that really doesn’t have anything to do with crime and punishment.  In fact, after being duly punished for being duly convicted of a crime, the collateral consequences of a conviction, including the loss of the right to vote, often a lifetime ban in Southern states, further hinders people with the burden of a criminal conviction to fully realize liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Indeed, since 1877, reactionary Southern Whites and complicit Northern whites, have attacked and thwarted the post-Civil War amendments, that is, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, from being fully realized.

When we see Trump playing the law and order “race card” in his bid for reelection, it is just a continuation of all the reactionary law and order legislation that started in 1877 to thwart the rights of Black people.  And note that Democrats, most infamously Bill Clinton, also played this law and order race card.

Clearly, the cards have been stacked against Black people in the criminal “justice” game.  Thus, when we talk about the current criminal legal system, it’s not simply a matter of reforming it — reforms only tweak the existing system and its structures.  When we see and admit that the basis of today’s criminal legal system is built on the Slave Codes, then we need to abolish it, not reform it, and work towards something that moves us as a nation beyond the “perfect Union” some of the slave owning forefathers envisioned.



*The Slave Codes are followed by their states’ abbreviation. The Louisiana Slave Code of 1824; the Alabama Slave Code of 1852; and the South Carolina Slave Code of 1740.


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Dear Daddy: A Love Letter to Your Beloved South

July 15, 2020

Dear Daddy,

Last night I dreamt of you for the first time since your death. I woke up with tears in my eyes. Although you have been dead for a little more than 38 years, in the middle of the night it came to me with such clarity – you live on in me. Even if it is just one drop of your blood….

I don’t know if you came to me last night because of what is happening in our country, what is happening in your beloved South, what is being called a “racial reckoning.” This so-called racial reckoning is actually the weight of history, the combined weight of all the Confederate monuments, memorials and statues in this country, coming down on America.

You should know that I resented you for not taking me on your trips down South in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I resented you until I learned the history of this country, including your beloved South and its obsession with subjugating and destroying Black males and raping Black women. I came to understand that you were protecting me in the only way you could, by not taking me on your trips down South, to what I now think of as forever the Confederacy, despite its defeat, and subjecting me to the evil ways of white folk. Of course, we had/have issues in New York, but Northerners have been a little more sophisticated in their discrimination and segregation of Black folk.

Whenever I think of you, I think of a proud native Southern son. You always stood military erect, and one could argue that that comes from serving in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II as a teenager, but I think it’s in the blood. I stand as you did, and people always ask me if I was in the military. I say no, though I have fought other battles. DNA analysis has advanced to such an extent that I can tell you that at this moment in time we trace our blood, our roots, to Nigeria, Benin and Togo, Cameroon, Congo and Southern Bantu peoples, and Ghana. Most of our DNA is found in Nigeria, and Nigeria as a country is a concept and product of colonialism that brought together more than 250 ethnic groups within arbitrary borders – thus our genetic connection to all those other West Coast African nations — but that’s another story.

This so-called racial reckoning in America is perhaps a moment in time unlike any other in American history. Those Confederate monuments, memorials and statues that overshadowed your youth are coming down all these years later after the Civil War, more than 150 years. Some people think it’s amazing, but it’s long overdue. They never should have been.

I began this letter stating that I woke up with tears in my eyes. They were your tears. Through your tears you showed me the South you were born in, Yeatesville, NC, and grew up in, throughout Virginia. As I wrote above, I later learned why you never took me South, but seeing the South through your eyes, having tapped into what Jung called the collective unconscious, I understand.

I understand that 14-year-old Emmett Till’s brutal murder at the hands of white men in 1955, five years before my birth, was in the forefront of your consciousness every time you traveled South and perhaps thought about traveling with your first-born son to meet your family, my family. I understand that as a proud Southerner whose roots I’ve traced to 1805 in the Township of Bath, NC, serving in the segregated U.S. Army as a teenager, must’ve stung and brought tears to your eyes. I understand that my Bajan maternal grandparents, having been colonized by the British – many descendants of Africans in the Caribbean have inherited that British arrogance and dislike of Yankees – probably disapproved of you, a native Southern son, because of how white folk have drove a wedge between Africans in the diaspora, telling one, Caribbean born, that they are better than the other, American born. Note that my maternal grandparents came to America on a ship in 1919 and 1923, respectively, not a slave ship, and by way of Ellis Island. On the ship’s manifest their race is listed as “African.” I know this was white folk’s doing, to differentiate them from us, native born “Negroes.” I need to repeat that you served during World War II, and that one of your uncles served during World War I, and I would bet someone in our ancestral line even fought during the Civil War! So for all descendants of Africans in the Diaspora, as well as indigenous Africans, who come to America to experience her liberty and bounty should know that both exist in large part because Black people in America, concentrated in the South at certain points in American history, fought for this country, “to make the world safe for democracy,” and to “end all wars,” and to fight the evil of white supremacy personified in Hitler’s Third Reich, bore the whips and scorns so you could travel on a ship that was not a slave ship and enjoy the “blessings of liberty” and freedom.

Daddy, please feel free to visit me again! An older cousin told me you were writing or working on writing a book. If true, I want to learn that story. Note that I have four books published.


Your Son

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On this day in American History – July 5, 1852 — Frederick Douglass gives his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

One hundred and sixty-eight years ago today Frederick Douglass gave his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”


Douglass was born into slavery in 1818, the product of a white male raping a Black woman.

White men raping Black women happened for centuries.  Dutch artist, Christiaen van Coubwenberg, captures this in a painting completed in 1632.  Note that the Dutch played a prominent role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.



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On this Day in American History — June 24, 2015, Confederate Flag Flies at Alabama Capitol until this day in 2015; Monuments Remain (From the Equal Justice Initiative 2020 Calendar)

On June 24, 2015, Alabama officials removed a Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the state capitol in Montgomery. The move came in response to national scrutiny of Confederate symbols on public property, triggered by a tragic shooting at a South Carolina church that left nine black people dead at the hand of a white supremacist who embraced Confederate iconography as a symbol of hatred.

Three days after the flag was removed from the Alabama Capitol, a predominately-white crowd of hundreds gathered on the capitol grounds in protest. Many wore or waved Confederate flags and other related images, and held signs proclaiming slogans like, “Southern Lives Matter!” The protesters insisted that the flag’s removal constituted a cultural genocide and erasure of their heritage.

The Confederacy was defeated by Union forces in 1865, ending a Civil War waged to preserve slavery. Much of the Southern – and then national – retelling of the history of the Civil War and the Confederacy took place through monuments and the organizations that formed to erect them. Around the turn of the 20th century, white Southerners installed monuments to the Confederacy across the South as part of a concerted effort to redeem their defeat and build cultural support for the re-establishment of white supremacy.

Confederate symbols and monuments gained renewed prominence in the mid-twentieth century, supporters of white supremacy felt increasingly threatened by the growing civil rights movement. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, scores of new Confederate monuments were added to the Southern landscape, many in direct response to federal desegregation efforts. In 1955, one year after the Supreme Court struck down segregated public schools in Brown v. Board of Education, a bronze figure of Robert E. Lee was installed in front of then all-white Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Alabama. A few months later, in its own act of defiance, the state of Georgia redesigned its state flag to include the Confederate battle flag. This is the modern heritage of Confederate iconography.

Many Southern states continue to glorify these symbols of resistance to racial equality and resist efforts to honestly reflect on their origins. In recent years, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia have passed “heritage” laws to shield Confederate monuments from growing public pressure to remove or relocate them.

Though Alabama has not reinstalled the Confederate flag removed from the capitol in 2015, an eighty-eight-foot-tall Confederate Monument remains prominently displayed on the Capitol grounds. The Monument includes an inscription that honors “the knightliest of the knightly race…” Currently, at least fifty-nine markers documenting Confederate history are visible throughout the city of Montgomery. Statewide, Alabama is home to at least one-hundred Confederate monuments. At least twenty-five percent of Confederate monuments at Alabama courthouses were erected within the last thirty years.

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Talladega Knights: The Ballad of Bubba Wallace, “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the Day of the Noose

Headline: Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black driver who races full-time in NASCAR’s top three series – a noose was found in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway, “the biggest and baddest track.”

NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag from its events, and Bubba Wallace is an outspoken critic of the Confederate symbol, but it is still emblazoned upon the hearts and minds of many white Southerners, who claim it as part of their cultural heritage, ignoring what it stands for: breaking away from the Union (these United States), forming its own entity, the Confederate States of America, starting a Civil War, all to preserve slavery and its underpinning theory of white supremacy, which only exists if Black people are deemed inferior. In other words, white supremacy doesn’t stand on its own as a true belief, and only exists in the dichotomous world of white supremacy, which is starkly black and white, and demands the white race over the Black.

Before Bubba Wallace took to the racetrack, a large Confederate flag was flown across “Alabama/Where the skies are so blue.” (From “Sweet Home Alabama.)

“Sweet Home Alabama” was released as a single on June 24, 1974, by Lynyard Skynyrd. At many performances of this iconic song, there’s a Confederate Flag in the backdrop. At a performance in Tennessee, before performing the song, the lead singer, a Confederate flag hanging from the microphone, says, “The South shall rise again!” The white fans in attendance are screaming their heads off, perhaps in approval. (I doubt a Black person attended this performance.)

In the song, one question pretty much sums up many white Southerners’ sentiments: “Does your conscience bother you, tell the truth?” We know the answer, given that the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments, currently under scrutiny under these here United States, still have strong Southern support, evidenced by people outside the Talladega Superspeedway waving Confederate Flags, a large Confederate Flag being flown across the Sky, and the “packaging” of Strange Fruit on display for Bubba Wallace, the Noose.

In my award-winning epic poem, Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present, I write about this Noose:


The birth of a nation –

A white reign of terror

Spread across the land.

Blood ran down the streets

As long as the Nile

Redeemers and Red Shirts:

White supremacists

With black blood on their hands.

Hooded figures in white robes

With fiery crosses

In one hand,

Nooses in the other.


“The Day of the Rope.”


Black bodies swinging from trees:

Strange fruit.


Cheering white mobs –

Man, woman and child.

The new national pastime.


“Take me out to the lynching,

Take me out to the tree….”

Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass

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Juneteenth Flag

From my award-winning epic poem, “Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present”:


The Emancipator,

the Great Friend of the Negro,

wanted to save the Union,

at any cost.

The South could have slavery,

but it couldn’t

break up the Union.

Southern disunionists.

Southern Secessionists.

The Confederate States of America.

The rebel states,

the Confederacy,

forced Abe’s hand.

The Union was torn asunder.

Confederate cannons fired

on Fort Sumter.

Bloody fighting began.

It raged on.

At first blush,

redneck Southerners

had more to lose.

They fought with that passion

of people who believe

in what they’re fighting for.

Northerners weren’t

quite so passionate.

Were white men dying

so black men could be free?

Draft riots in New York City.

White mobs attacking blacks,

willing to risk their lives

fighting black men

but not fighting white men

so black men could be free.

The Emancipation Proclamation,

the Day of Jubilee! —

a shrewd political move.

The Day of Jubilee! —


Black feed dancing in the streets,

remembering the holy beat.

The balance of power

suddenly shifted.

The Northern cause

was infused with black passion.

Blacks in the slave states

were “freed” to fight

their former masters,

while the slaves in the

states loyal to the Union

remained slaves.

“Slaves in the Union,

obey your masters.”

“Slaves in the Confederacy,

do not obey your masters.”

Take up arms.

Fight for your freedom!

Liberty or death!

1st North Carolina Volunteers

Corps d’ Afrique.

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Marching to glory.

Blacks fought with the passion

of people who have everything

to lose, and gain.

They had to.

Redneck rebels would

kill black POWs —

no gentlemen rules of war —

that legendary southern

gentility absent —

not for black soldiers,

no Geneva convention.

One of white men’s greatest fears

had come true.

Black men were facing

them across a battlefield,

the levelest of all playing fields.

Facing death.

Death, the great equalizer.

When black soldiers were captured,

they were killed.

The brutality against them

was inflicted with passion,

like crimes of passion,

destroying genitalia —

the big black cock

that had frightened white men

from the very beginning.

This treatment of black POWs,

of black soldiers,

was even more brutal

than the brutalest

treatment meted out

to the most recalcitrant slave.

These black soldiers


the ultimate threat

to slave masters.

They’d set

a dangerous precedent.

They’d taken up arms.

They’d vowed

to kill white men,

slave masters

and their supporters,

for black freedom,

not to save the Union.

This outraged

white slave masters.

“How dare niggers

take up arms

against white men.

Abe was crazy

to arm niggers

in the first place,

to provide the seeds

for a future race war.”

Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass



Posted in Black patriotism, Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass, Justice Chronicles, Lest We Forget, Poetry, Politics, race, Revolution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On this Day in American history – June 19, 1865 — Juneteenth (From the Equal Justice Initiative)

Although President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declared enslaved Black people in Confederate territories free, these locations were under Confederate control, which rejected the freedom of enslaved people on plantations throughout the South. The Proclamation did little to emancipate enslaved people. With the Civil War lost, the Confederate army’s surrender on April 9, 1865 should have resulted in immediate freedom for enslaved Black people.

White Southerners, however, remained committed to white supremacy and used violence, misinformation and threats to keep Black people enslaved in defiance of federal law.  Enslaved Black people in Texas did not learn about the Emancipation Proclamation until June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived with news that the Confederacy had lost the war. For generations, African Americans have recognized this date as the day that marked the end of enslavement for Black people in America and the hope for what freedom ought to bring.

Slavery, except for punishment for crime, did not become illegal in the U.S. until December 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was officially ratified. Many Southern states including Kentucky and Delaware resisted ratification for decades. Mississippi refused to ratify the 13th Amendment for 130 years, and didn’t formally file its ratification until February 7, 2013.

African Americans quickly learned that the promise of Juneteenth would not be fulfilled, as the Union’s commitment to ending slavery did not include a commitment to Black equality. The end of the Civil War brought the liberation of formerly enslaved people and drastically altered the political and social landscape of the nation. Emancipation presented the opportunity to lay a new foundation and to build towards repairing the harms of enslavement, but that was an opportunity leaders in the United States ultimately failed to pursue.

Reconstruction’s hopeful promise proved to be short-lived, dangerous, and deadly. As EJI’s newly released report on Reconstruction in America documents, at least 2,000 African Americans were victims of racial terror lynchings during this 12-year period. In response to Reconstruction era policies, racial violence and discriminatory political movements committed to re-establishing white supremacy emerged to ensure that emancipation would not mean political participation, social equality, or economic independence for Black people. White Southerners responded to losing the Civil War with increased violence against African Americans across the South that reached epidemic proportions in the summer of 1865 and persisted through the first half of the 20th century.

In 1877, the U.S. government abandoned its promise to protect newly emancipated Black people after enslavement and withdrew federal troops from the South. This decision marked the end of Reconstruction and multiracial democracy, and it left Black men, women, and children vulnerable to a century of racial terror. From 1877 to 1950, at least 4,400 African Americans were killed by racial terror lynchings. During this era, the nation’s legal system turned a blind eye and allowed white Americans to kill with impunity.

Today, more than 150 years after the enactment of the 13th Amendment, very little has been done to address the legacy of slavery and its meaning in contemporary life—despite the fact that the enslavement of Black people created wealth, opportunity, and prosperity for millions of white Americans and gave birth to the American economy. Slavery in America traumatized and devastated millions of people. It created false narratives about racial difference that still persist today. These narratives and the ideology of white supremacy lasted well beyond slavery and fueled decades of racial terror, segregation, mass incarceration, and racial hierarchy.

Juneteenth should be a national day of reflection that invites us all to confront the unfulfilled promises and justice denied to Black people in this nation. This reflection can better prepare us to deal with the legacies of racial injustice that we live with today. By strengthening our understanding of racial history, we can create a healthier discourse about race in America that can lead to an era of truth and justice. EJI is persuaded that the hope of racial justice in America will be shaped not by the fear and resistance of those who doubt its importance but by the commitment, dedication, and action of those who believe that a future free of racial injustice is possible.

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