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Emancipation Proclamation in 1863

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To what extent were African-American slaves “free” after the abolition of slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863? What challenges did they face after their emancipation? This is a subject of continued interest. History is rife with records of decades of untold torture and harrowing experiences. African-American slaves suffered at the hands of their captors and masters. They were denied all natural rights as human beings and forced to live like animals. A slave was viewed as one-third of a person and the property of their owner(s) and treated as objects, mere things.One would therefore assume that after their emancipation, life would become significantly better because the slaves were free to move away from the torturous hands of their masters. Indeed these slaves were truly hopeful to live as free people in their new land of opportunities. Regrettably, many of them faced incredible opposition and discrimination even after emancipation. Being emancipated from slavery did not, for instance, make the former slaves enjoy equal treatment as the white population.

Life continued to be unbearable for them. Thus by and large, the emancipation of the African-American slaves did not truly free them nor directly lead to an increased quality of life or standard of living. It was only the beginning of that dream. Investigation Over the course of many centuries the idea of freedom has been tossed back and forth, constantly being modified to fit the standards of those times. This ideology has also steadily progressed through history.

As far back as history can tell us, freedom was virtually non-existent. People were under the absolute rule of kings and monarchs. As revolts and rebellions occurred against these monarchs the idea of freedom gradually evolved. Citizens began to recognize that they were equal as human beings and had rights, thus refused to blindly follow their incapable leaders any longer. With this change also came a revolution in the government.

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Other forms of leading a nation were being considered besides the ever so popular and rominent monarchy, such as a constitutional monarchy in which the people were given significantly greater freedom and involvement in decision making processes, which would eventually become a rough design for our modern day democracy. But in the case of African slaves in the United States, this hierarchy of absolute power and control appeared insurmountable. Forced to live terrible lives on plantations at the hands of their masters in horrendous conditions, being free someday was all they had to keep them going.

This wish was fulfilled in 1863 with the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. The slaves were now free to become independent and lead their own lives. But emancipation, as a matter of fact, was only a large stepping stone for the slaves. But for a few ‘privileged’ slaves who served as house servants, the "sunrise-to-sunset" back-breaking jobs on farms and plantations became their vocation for which many were unaccustomed to.

They were punished for any flimsy reason with a variety of objects and instruments including whips, knives, guns and field tools. They were hanged, forced to walk a treadmill, placed in chains and shackles or in various contraptions such as thick and heavy metal collars with protruding spikes that made fieldwork difficult and prevented the slave from sleeping while lying down. Even the most kindly and humane masters used the threat of violence to force these field hands to work from dawn to dusk.

Runaways were also heavily punished, mercilessly flogged in the presence of all the slaves assembled from the neighboring plantations, chained with heavy weights round the neck, or chained to another person, sometimes of the opposite sex for an extended period and flogged repeatedly. As if that were not enough, the wounds of the slaves whipped were burst and rubbed with turpentine and red pepper. Enslaved black women were raped by their owners, members of their owner's families, or their owner's friends, and children who resulted from such rapes were slaves as well.

Being pregnant did not spare a slave woman the whip or rod. A hole was dug for her to rest her belly while being whipped. They were also at constant risk of losing members of their families if their owners decided to sell them for profit, punishment, or to pay debts. Slavery indeed was dehumanizing in every sense of the word. The Declaration of Emancipation was monumental, and came with the renewed sense of hope that life after their emancipation would become significantly better.

Being free, the former slaves envisaged being able to live with a sense of purpose and pride in a land ripe with a cornucopia of opportunities waiting to be capitalized on. Spirits were high and celebration took place as ideas and fantasies of a rich lifestyle with a good standard of living were being formulated. [1] For some ex slaves, their dreams became somewhat of a reality as their fight for survival during slavery helped them develop the wits needed to succeed in their new found world.

Unfortunately, there were many tragic disappointments, as nearly all the slaves that were emancipated were forced to return back to their old masters after leaving the plantations, starving and diseased. [2] Many were not able to survive on their own. This came as a result of both internal and external forces - being somewhat trapped by their own helplessness, insecurities, lack of knowledge[3] and still viewed as slaves by the whites. Even though former slaves became free to travel throughout the south daring to leave the plantation to visit or search for loved ones from whom they had become separated was no small feat.

Other challenges also included deciding on a name as well as the more elusive task of creating an identity with no sense of one's ancestry, making choices for themselves about where they labored and the type of work they performed, the use of public accommodations, providing for one's daily needs and pursuing an education. When one lives at the hands and mercy of a master who controls every aspect of one’s life, starting fresh in a ‘foreign country’ can prove to be a difficult task. For many of them, the dream was short-lived.

In many respects, the slaves were not solely responsible for their burdens or inability to rise to freedom. Simply declaring that the slaves were free did not go far enough to enable them become self-determined. They needed the help and guidance of those in control not only to survive but also to thrive. Without much land, money, materials or no legal title to aid them, they soon became ‘freed’ in name only, rather than as legal citizens who were entitled to the most basic liberties. It was no wonder news about the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment in January 1865, was greeted with euphoria and relief.

This new chapter in American history was to fully abolish slavery in the United States, ‘freeing’ four million African Americans. Men and women - black and white, and in the North and South began the work of rebuilding the shattered union and of creating a new social order called Reconstruction that would hold many promises. Many young blacks also joined the army upon encouragement from military generals, lured in by the prospect of earning money and the being accepted by the whites. [4]

Furthermore, with the protection of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, citizenship was to be granted to all people born or naturalized in the United States and guaranteeing that no American (including the freed slaves) would be denied the right to vote on the basis of race. With that, the freed Southern black men began to exercise this right to vote and actively participate in the political process, many being elected to the United States Congress and local offices.

Racial lines seemed to begin to diminish as coalitions of white and black Republicans passed bills to establish the first public school systems in most states of the South, although sufficient funding was hard to find. Freedom truly seemed to fill the air. They also met in annual conventions across the nation and issued heart-felt addresses to the people of the United States, to affirm their status as citizens and implore the support of fair-minded white people.

In spite of the daunting challenges, former African-American slaves were determined to succeed in their new found freedom; and they did - making significant strides in establishing their own churches, towns and businesses. Their quest for equality, and the opportunity to live in harmony with any other ethnic group in the country[5] prompted their swift rejection of President Lincoln’s 1862 offer to segregate them to the District of Columbia, which they could colonize. Even with the winds of the Thirteenth Amendment on their backs, the ride to freedom was everything but smooth.

Opponents of this progress soon rallied against the former slaves' freedom and began to find means for eroding the gains for which many had shed their blood. Some Whites were even skeptical in the first place, stating that the slaves should have - at least - been in some way educated or prepared for freedom, before it was so suddenly thrust upon them so they didn’t become an evil and menace to the welfare of the entire country. White supremacists sought to return blacks to their subordinate status under slavery. They resurrected barriers and enacted new laws to segregate society along racial lines.

They limited black access to transportation, schools, restaurants and other public facilities. The groundbreaking advances of Reconstruction were quickly being reversed. Extreme racist Southerners hated them just as much if not more than before they were freed. Forming anti-black groups such as the Klu Klux Klan they continued to harass and persecute them with unimaginable acts of violence. As rioting increased by enraged white people against African Americans - whom they accused of stealing their jobs - millions of these former slaves began living in a constant state of anxiety and fear..

While most blacks were denied their right to keep and bear arms and therefore unable to protect themselves or their families, lynching increasingly became the weapon of white mob terror. A combination of similar acts of oppression such as fraud and intimidation were also employed to reduce black voting and regain control of state legislatures. Laws or provisions passed such as poll taxes, residency requirements and literacy tests made voter registration and elections more complicated which overwhelmingly disadvantaged blacks.

Litigation to challenge such provisions at the state and national levels were to no avail as the Supreme Court upheld the states’ decisions. Their treatment and accommodations became inferior to those provided for white Americans, systematizing a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. Black soldiers for instance, were not given as much pay as their fellow white soldiers, and it was only until they appealed through a letter to Abraham Lincoln that this policy was changed to even the pay scale. [6] Segregation in all public facilities, with a supposedly "separate but equal" was also mandated.

Conclusion The crux of the Emancipation Proclamation – which advocated abolition of slavery - was easier said than done. It simply raised the hopes of many enslaved African Americans about the prospect of freedom only to leave them still despairing. African Americans continued suffer from segregation, lack of education, and political disenfranchisement. Freedom for them appeared to be superficial, if at all existent– only fulfilling their desire to truly make lives for themselves, while ignoring or depriving them of the means to achieve it.

They were still unprotected from the brutal attacks suffered at the hands of anti-Negro groups[7] who still despised them, and granted no help in developing a new lifestyle. The lack of equality, legal or human rights made achieving anything remarkably unfair and near impossible. Life was just as it was under the bondage of slavery. Hence for all the good intentions for the abolition of slavery , the Declaration of Emancipation did not truly spell freedom and equality for all African-American slaves, nor did it directly lead to a lasting increased quality of life or standard of living.

It was a huge step towards the beginning of a long, painful struggle for freedom - far longer and more difficult than anyone could realize. The ruling government could and should have done more to quell the uprisings the emancipation triggered, and worked towards helping the former slaves establish themselves while integrating them with other groups to live in peace. It was the thirteenth amendment passed after the end of the American Civil War which permanently abolished slavery and also paved the way for further amendments to the constitution that would brought complete freedom for the former slaves.

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