It was 150 years ago today that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves. This is one of the most discussed and debated documents in all of U.S. history and one of the most significant in terms of building our diverse country.
Both Lincoln and the Proclamation have been idealized beyond their true power at the time, and they have also been criticized and considered little more than a cynical maneuver during a time of war.
The truth is that the document was a military directive made in the midst of the Civil War, when the battles that raged between the North and South framed the politics of the day. This provided the context for putting in writing the decision to free the slaves in some states of the Republic that were under seize. Lincoln, while opposing slavery, was still a man held some of the prejudices of his time.
The Proclamation played a critical role in joining the earlier anti-slavery forces, such as the abolitionist movement of the 1830s, with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned slavery forever in this country.
We have traversed a long and complicated journey from those times to today, when an African-American man occupies the White House. The election and reelection of Barack Obama serves as an extraordinary example of how far this country has come.
That said, the gap between the Black community’s economic and education profile and that of the majority White population is stark. The same can be said in terms of the disproportionate number of incarcerated African Americans.
Today, we no longer talk of slavery. But this doesn’t release us from the important task to continue to work toward a society where the color of one’s skin or ethnicity does not determine one’s opportunities or destiny.