And then one-day word comes from a Union soldier. You are free.
Oral histories taken during the 1930s tell of slaves so elated when they heard the news of their emancipation that they leaped up and down, hugged and cried. Freedom was a word so sacred to the slaves that they kept it hidden in their prayers. The waiting had finally ended, after three centuries of bondage they were finally free people.
Simply saying that people are no longer property does not mean that all freedoms are immediately accessible. After hundreds of years of being treated as less then human, they were suddenly allowed to vote, run for office, and defend themselves in court like all white men. Black women had to wait a little longer to gain these same civil rights.
One of the biggest problems the new class of emancipated slaves had to confront was the severe education gap that separated them from other free men. In the span of two years it went from being illegal to teach a slave to write to the establishment of America's first black colleges. The job of helping blacks to get access to education and health care fell in the lap of the newly created Freeman's Bureau.
The Freeman's Bureau was the created by the US Government to fill the massive social gap that centuries of slavery had created. In its first year, the Bureau established 4000 schools, 100 hospitals, and provided food and homes for former slaves. Here is what their stated purpose reads:
We must not treat them as stepchildren; there is too much danger in doing too much as in doing too little. For a time we need a freedmen's bureau, but not because these people are Negroes, only because they are men who have been, for generations, despoiled of their rights.
The number one enemy of the Freeman's Bureau was President Andrew Johnson. An openly racist man, Johnson rejected the continuation of the Freedman's Bureau after one year on the ground that it "proposed to do more for Negroes than for whites." Interestingly enough, that is essentially the same argument that anti-affirmative action conservatives use today.
Johnson battled the radical Republican Congress that sought to fully naturalize all slaves as American citizens. Congress would eventually attempt to impeach the president.
On one day in March 1867, Congress overrode Johnson's veto of the first "Great Reconstruction Act." Ironically, on that same day Johnson swallowed his bitterness and signed the charter for Howard University.
That is beautiful! That is what America is all about! While the Freeman's bureau was disbanded only a few years after its creation, it was the first step in righting the wrongs of America's slavery past. Without the bureau, former slaves would have had to educate themselves all on their own.
OK, let's bring this to the present before we close.
We may never be free of the legacy of slavery, but as long as blacks receive the worst educations, the harshest prison sentences, and a fraction of the incomes half those of their white peers, we will not live in a just nation."Until the killing of black men, black mother's sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest." -Gospel song I heard on the road
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Stephanie - Taking freedom back