Harlem Week: The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 was the first step toward ending more than two centuries of African-American bondage in U.S.

Despite President Lincoln’s decree, blacks would endure injustice, discrimination and violence long after the abolition of slavery

President Abraham Lincoln's executive order changed the course of U.S. history and future for blacks in America.

President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order changed the course of U.S. history and future for blacks in America.

It’s the most significant executive order ever issued by a United States President. A 1,754-word document in legalese, the Emancipation Proclamation ultimately changed the course of U.S. history and the future for black people in America.

Formally made public by Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, during the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation dealt a major blow to the institution of slavery. Issued as a war measure, it essentially freed slaves in the ten Confederate states that were still in rebellion at that time – some 3.1 million of the 4 million people in bondage in the America,

What the measure didn’t do was end slavery or emancipate those in four slave-holding states – Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware – that were not part of the Confederacy. And slaves in Confederate areas captured by the Union army were exempt, too.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, a turning point for the only group of people to be brought to these shores in chains. And though it laid the foundation for a new beginning for African-Americans, there seems to be little fanfare over the proclamation’s sesquicentennial.

In 1863, a runaway shows beating scars received before his escape to Union lines.

In 1863, a runaway shows beating scars received before his escape to Union lines.

Outside academia, few commemorative events appear planned in New York or nationwide.

That’s in stark contrast to New Year’s Day 1863 when millions greeted the news of emancipation with jubilation. For some sectors of American society, Lincoln’s decree was the beginning of the end of more than two centuries of bondage dating to 1619, when the first enslaved African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Va.

But in reality, blacks, particularly in the South, would continue to endure injustice, discrimination and violence even after the 13th Amendment – abolishing slavery entirely in the U.S. – was ratified in December 1865.

The Jim Crow laws formalizing racial segregation in the former Confederate states, lynchings and voting restrictions became a way of life in the wake of the proclamation.

A hundred years later, critics, including notable African-American intellectuals as W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin and Julius Lester, all described the proclamation as worthless.

Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who applauded the measure’s intent, and President Lyndon Johnson would also highlight its shortcomings.

The Emancipation Proclamation is a 1,754-word document that dealt a major blow to the institution of slavery.

The Emancipation Proclamation is a 1,754-word document that dealt a major blow to the institution of slavery.

In the famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech King gave in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, he hailed the Emancipation Proclamation during its centennial as a “momentous decree that had come as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves.”

Then he noted: “It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

Three months earlier, at a Emancipation Proclamation centennial event in Gettysburg, then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson voiced the same concern.

“One hundred years ago, the slave was freed. One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin,” he said.

Later, as President, Johnson repeated the criticism when he presented the landmark Voting Rights Act to a joint session of Congress in March 1965, saying: “A century has passed since the day of promise, and the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come, and I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back.”

 The Voting Rights Act, which erased all restrictions on voting based on race or color, was another monumental step toward completing what the Emancipation Proclamation had intended.
Demonstrator in Boston uses U.S. flag to attack Ted Landsmark during an anti-busing dispute in 1976.

Demonstrator in Boston uses U.S. flag to attack Ted Landsmark during an anti-busing dispute in 1976.

It followed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a historic bill that not only outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities and women, but also sounded the death knell for Jim Crow.

Preceding the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts was another executive order from the White House –

President Truman’s 1948 pronouncement ending segregation in the military.

Another bill of note was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which was passed over President Andrew Johnson’s objections (his initial veto was overturned in both houses of Congress). It granted citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by white citizens to all male persons in the United States “without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.”

So, how best to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation’s sesquicentennial?

Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by policeman in 1956 after she was arrested in Montgomery, Ala., for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus.

Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by policeman in 1956 after she was arrested in Montgomery, Ala., for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus.

Gregory Downs, associate professor of history at the City College of New York and the doctoral faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center, suggests that people consider the time and effort by many that culminated with the proclamation.

“The things that I’d be excited to see people wrestle with as they talk about the Emancipation Proclamation would be to look at how broad and long the struggle had been,” said Downs, an expert on the transformative impact of the Civil War. “How many people, abolitionist and others, across the country worked for decades for that to be true, and lobbied and pressed and then elected people who would make it true.”

Downs, whose next book, “The Ends of the War: Fighting the Civil War after Appomattox,” is due from Harvard University Press in 2015, said the proclamation can be portrayed as the defining leap forward in American history.

“The United States was in many respects a country where slavery defined [it], where slaveowners had tremendous political power and where they had steered the ship of state for generations and they had used that power to set up a government that made it easier for them to develop a large, slave-based economy,” he said.

The Emancipation Proclamation, he adds, thus becomes a  transformational moment in America history, because it not only had a powerful impact upon the millions of black Americans but also was a crucial step in changing the nature of the government and society organized around protecting slave interest and slave property.

By / FOR THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/harlem-week-emancipation-proclamation-step-article-1.1417321#ixzz2bF9VMOO
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