In America one example of our best value is freedom. Freedom of speech and freedom to practice religion as one sees fit are among the cornerstones of our democracy. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was built upon it.
Here is an example of the darker side of that same American fence. It involves behaviors and attitudes about what freedom is and for whom: slavery. People, primarily those brought over from Africa to work as slave labor, were excluded from having the rights and privileges afforded others in that great declaration which, ironically, granted the right to men (not women), regardless of race, to be treated as human beings.
It took almost 200 years for our country to take at least a legal stand against the original decision/compromise that basically decreed that slaves were property, not people.
From 1619 to 1865, formal slavery was legal. According to some accounts there were about four million slaves in the United States by 1860. It would be two years after that – on April 16, 1862 - that that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, which freed more than 3000 slaves in the District of Columbia. But it wasn’t until 1865, after the American Civil War that slavery officially ended in the rest of the United States.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by 30 of the then 36 states in 1865. It would be more than 100 years after that before it would be ratified in Mississippi.
Emancipation Day in Washington DC marks the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act. On January 4, 2005, legislation was signed to make Emancipation Day an official public holiday in the District of Columbia. Elsewhere in the United States, the emancipation of slaves is celebrated in only these states and territories:
· Washington DC
· Puerto Rico
· U.S. Virgin Islands
Amazingly, in the other states where, no doubt, slavery existed – especially where Native Americans and Mexicans were enslaved- the day is not observed. And what of those six states that did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment?
There is no doubt that this darker side of our humanity is not specifically American. Slavery has long been a force among people for eons and, as such, continues to reflect what still needs to be addressed - as often as it takes to eradicate it.