Lincoln and The Union Did Not End Slavery, Black Soldiers and Abolitionists Did


Tomorrow, June 19, marks the annual festivities of Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of the last concentration of slaves in America located in Galveston, Texas. 

Also known in the past as Black Independence Day, Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth was finally recognized as a United States federal holiday in 2021. Citizens across the country recognize this holiday with a wide assortment of celebrations such as parades, historical reenactments, cookouts, block parties and more.

Juneteenth is a time to commemorate the ending of the brutal and horrific era of slavery in America. It’s also a time to recognize Black ancestors and their work towards freedom, and to remember the countless slaves that never got to see the basic human rights to their own lives that they deserved. This holiday sheds light on not just Black history, but American history that needs to be taught in depth in schools across the nation because in order to amend the future of this country, we have to be fully aware of the faults in our past-instead of just sweeping details under the rug. 

It’s commonly taught in schools across the nation that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 in the midst of the Civil War, ended slavery. It’s also taught that the northern Union fought the southern Confederacy with the goal to end slavery. The reality is, slavery persisted after the Emancipation Proclamation, the Reconstruction Era that followed the Civil War was America’s failed attempt to do the right thing, racism has always prevailed through time and ending slavery was never a priority for Lincoln or a good portion of the white North-preserving the Union was. 

Ending slavery and freeing Black people was a central priority however for slaves and abolitionists (both Black and white). Their efforts are what brought the cause to end slavery to the forefront of the Civil War, and it should be these efforts that are highlighted in history to show what truly freed slaves. 

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a secret network of safehouses across the United States that aided runaway slaves in crossing the state border to self-emancipate themselves. The network was made up of freed slaves and white abolitionists such as the Quakers-who were one of the first white groups to reject slavery. One of the most famous conductors of the Underground Railroad is Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery in Maryland and traveled back at least 13 more times to help others escape. She also helped Black people escape to Canada, as the country had more promising policies for Black people than the U.S. did. 

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass also emancipated himself through taking the route of the Underground Railroad, and was able to assert his great influence on American politics because of that. 

Slave Abolitionists’ Effect on American Politics

Black abolitionists were able to highlight the irrationalities and hypocrisy of slavery through their personal experiences and self education. They were stuck in a country that saw them as less than human. This country, which was supposedly built on a foundation of basic human rights, refused to extend those rights to other humans merely due to their skin tone. 

People like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and David Walker-among countless others-eloquently preached about injustice, the evils of slavery and even cited the objectives of the Declaration of Independence as it preaches about the natural rights of all human beings: the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Their words not only caught the attention of white rationals that would come to support the cause, but also invigorated Black people held in slavery to fight back. 

Black Soldiers in the Civil War

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union’s force against the South was starting to die down. The Confederacy was proving they weren’t letting up, and the North needed a better strategy. When Frederick Douglass along with other abolitionists pushed Abraham Lincoln to allow Black soldiers into the Union military and also for them to receive equal pay while on duty, this was a pivotal moment in the Civil War and the emancipation of Black people. 

Tens of thousands and Black men joined the northern forces and Black women also assisted as nurses, cooks and spies. This strengthened the Union military presence again and the higher concentration of runaways in the South to join the military in the North weakened the Confederacy, as they were losing their slaves on the plantations that were collecting all the food and resources for them. These Black soldiers also pushed to free their families and it was their immense influence that brought forth the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Below is a picture of a recruitment flier for Black soldiers from the U.S. National Archives

It is reported that over 200,000 Black soldiers served during the Civil War. Over 30,000 Black soldiers lost their lives to the cause, and on Juneteenth it is important to remember and honor them. It were these Black Union soldiers that also were on standby in Galveston, Texas-two years after the Emancipation Proclamation-when General Order Number Three was issued, finally emancipating the last reported slaves in America. 

It’s important to note that the “Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln himself said, “Without the Military help of Black Freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won.”

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