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President Obama Celebrates 13th Amendment Anniversary

By Janelle Berry

Special to the NNPA News Wire from the HU News Service


Ask Americans what the Emancipation Proclamation is and most who know of President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order will respond like 20-year-old Ebony Harris, a student of Howard University from Chicago, Ill., and say, “Isn’t that the thing that freed the slaves?”

But, the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free the slaves. It freed three of the four million slaves in states that were in revolt against the Union during the Civil War, and it was not permanent.

Ask them about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, and most responses sound like Josephine Jacob-Cox, a schedule manager for the New York City Transit Authority.

“Does it have something to do with voting,” Jacob-Cox asked.

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Actually, this was the law that freed the slaves.

Had it not been for that amendment 150 years ago, there may not be a U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, billionaire Robert Johnson, Xerox President Ursula Burns, music impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs, “Empire,” R&B music, hip hop or rap, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser or President Barack Obama.

Obama and Congress paused last week (Wednesday) to celebrate the moment 119 all White men in the U.S. House of Representatives would forever abolish slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

“Today, the issue of chattel slavery seems so simple, so obvious – it is wrong in every sense, stealing men, women, and children from their homelands, tearing husband from wife, parent from child; stripped and sold to the highest bidder; shackled in chains and bloodied with the whip,” Obama said in Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s antithetical not only to our conception of human rights and dignity, but to our conception of ourselves – a people founded on the premise that all are created equal.”

Although the amendment’s purpose was to abolish slavery, it was also a strategy to end the bloody and tragic fatalities during the Civil War of 1861 to 1865. For four years, Black and White Union soldiers were fighting in the war together against the rebellious Confederacy, causing over half a million deaths.

Even after the Senate passed the amendment April 1864, Lincoln aggressively pursued the favor of representatives in the House who opposed the amendment by bribing them, offering his support in their political careers and even convincing them that the amendment’s purpose had nothing to do with racial equality.

Once the bill was passed in January, on Dec. 6, 1865, the bill was ratified, declaring the end of slavery. Eventually, several states began to ratify the amendment to their state constitutions, the first being Illinois on Feb. 1, 1865.

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