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Emancipation Proclamation: Delivered absolute freedom?

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By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil
As we celebrate Black History Month and this year’s theme, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emanci-pation Proc-lamation and the March on Washington,” I’ve pondered on what that really means.
I’ve also asked myself and others if the Emancipation Proclamation solved the problems of African-Americans on Jan. 1, 1863. In hindsight I would have to say no. The order by President Abraham Lincoln only applied to 10 states that were in rebellion to the Union. It didn’t apply to the almost 500,000 slaves that were in bondage in Border States. So I ask how did this document solve our problems? Once again, it didn’t.
I know as Union Soldiers marched into those states slaves were freed and not returned to their owners, but it still took winning the Civil War and an amendment to the Constitution to end slavery. I know the Emancipation Proclamation was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough.
After the abolishment of slavery through the 13th Amendment which was passed by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865 and ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, the true reason for the Emancipation Proclamation finally came to fruition.
It would take another 100 years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation before African-Americans began to truly have complete freedoms that are guaranteed by the Constitution. What happened in those 100 years? After the 13th Amendment African-Americans were free to vote and some even ran for office.
According to www.history.com, some 2,000 African-Americans held office, from the local level all the way up to the U.S. Senate, though they never achieved representation in government proportionate to their numbers.
But those freedoms that African-Americans had during radical Reconstruction would soon come to an end with the implementation of Jim Crow laws around 1890 and the separate but equal era. I’ve always asked myself can you truly be separate but equal. The answer is no, it’s not possible. There will always be forms of inequality in separate but equal.
Once again, it would take radical changes to abolish the Jim Crow era. One of those changes were peaceful demonstrations and marches, which included the Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. More than 200,000 gathered at the Washington Memorial to begin a peaceful demonstration which included more than African-Americans. This cause affected Americans, which attributed to the diverse crowd.
After the march it would only take the U.S. government a year to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But were we still free? In many aspects yes, but the passage of those acts were still met with opposition.
A decade passed before another act finally rid schools of separate but equal through Brown v. the Board of Education, which overturned the 1896 decision Plessey v. Ferguson. The Supreme Court ruled that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
Once again African-Americans had won through the courts and government to gain rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution. But have these victories come with a price? I believe in some ways they have.
Did integration solve all of our problems or were just some of our problems solved? I will be the first to say that separate but equal does not work. It’s just not possible or feasible. But, I will admit that integration meant our sense of self went away. We no longer had African-American men and women teaching our children. If there were a negative that would be it, because we no longer saw people who look like us teaching us.
I’m not saying I believe integration was the worst possible way to go, because it wasn’t. Heck, I’m a product of integration. I’ve never experienced the concept of separate but equal. I was an Army brat and I lived outside of this country as a child. I had the best of both worlds. I was able to get away from my little corner of the Earth and expand my horizons. I had the opportunity to experience and understand other cultures and ethnicities. That experience was priceless.
Unlike some of my peers, I had African-American teachers and professionals who were African-Americans. I began to see those who look like me achieve the ultimate dream, which was accomplished through education. Education that was achieved because the country had the insight to know that separate but equal didn’t work.
As African-Americans it has taken more than 100 years after the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery to gain complete freedoms. I wonder if Lincoln hadn’t issued the Emancipation Proclamation would we have a March on Washington. I believe the march still happens because America’s climate warranted the march.
I’ve also been fortunate to see King’s dream become a reality. For most of my life I have been judged by the content of my character and not the color of my skin. I have encountered racism, but because of King and others before and after him, I’ve learned that you can’t change a person’s heart. I can only hope to change your thinking and show you that we are all the same. The only difference is our culture and ethnicities. I always tell my two girls if we all looked the same how boring that would be. We should embrace our differences and use those experiences to learn a little something about others. If we do that, King’s dream will truly be a success.