December 6 marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.  Important as the amendment was to the legal status of Black people in America, the path towards abolition was not an easy nor a straightforward process.  Moreover, as we look a century and a half later at the state of Black America and the enduring legacy of the badge of slavery, it is necessary to assess exactly where we are, what we have, or have not become, and how much progress we have made.

Emancipation

Image: Library of Congress

Much is said of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863.  However, as historian and Columbia University professor Eric Foner notes, this did not bring about an end to slavery.

“The proclamation was certainly the turning point of the Civil War. But Lincoln did not free the four million slaves with a stroke of his pen,” Foner wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The proclamation had no bearing on the four border slave states that remained in the Union and exempted certain areas of the Confederacy that had fallen under Union military control. All told, perhaps 800,000 slaves were not covered. Moreover, the proclamation emancipated people; it did not eradicate the state laws that established and protected slavery.”

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