Our plan for four million people was to ship them off to Liberia? Did Lincoln really meet with black leaders in 1862 at the White House to discuss voluntary emigration of African Americans to another country? What did those leaders say to Lincoln?
When Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing enslaved people in 10 Southern states, was it a moral statement about the plight of black people in our country, or was it a tactic to threaten the Southern states into re-joining the Union? Does it matter what his intentions were? Why did I learn growing up that the proclamation freed all enslaved people? What else in American history have I not learned? What else has been whitewashed to soften the violent ways we have oppressed our own people?
The one entity that was designed to support the newly emancipated, the Freedmen’s Bureau, was fought every step of the way and eventually undercut. The fight to remove physical bondage in this country mirrors so much of the political turmoil we are seeing today.
- March 1865 — The Freedmen’s Bureau is established to provide food and medical care to formerly enslaved people.
- Fall 1865 — States pass black codes to restrict black freedom.
- December 1865 — States ratify the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery.
- December 1865 — The KKK is founded in Tennessee.
- February 1866 — Congress proposes a follow-up Freedmen's Bureau Bill that President Johnson vetoes. Congress amends the bill, and it is vetoed again by Johnson. Congress overrides his veto and passes a version of the bill.
- Summer 1872 — The Freedmen’s Bureau is shut down due to lack of funding.
It may sound far away, except that states, many Southern, have been fighting to maintain their slavery roots ever since. Mississippi didn’t ratify the 13th Amendment until 2013. Prince Edward County in Virginia closed its public schools from 1959 to 1964 to prevent black children from attending schools with white children.
When we think about our dark racial history, it puts the 2016 election into historical perspective. We have always struggled as a country over issues of race, and we haven’t figured it out, not even with a black President. We’re still fighting the Civil War, and the fracturing that occurred at that time permeates our social and political arenas today. So the historical journey we took in CONNECT actually helped me make sense of what is going on around me. Relearning our past is helping me converse more intelligently with peers about race and social policy. And while I was focused on acquiring new facts, I also connected with other thoughtful, reflective young people on their own racial-justice journeys. I’m walking away feeling connected, comforted, humbled, and hungry to learn.
— Cheryl Pruce