Jan. 1 began a new year in the 21st century, but that date also was a milestone in this country's strained relationship with its black citizens.
It was on Jan. 1, 1863 -- 139 years ago -- when President Lincoln declared free "all slaves living in territories in rebellion against the United States." This document is referred to as the Emancipation Proclamation.
Slavery remains a sensitive issue for many black Americans. There is a movement started to seek reparations from all governments, particularly the United States and Great Britain, for all descendants of slaves. That same movement also seeks a formal apology from those governments to blacks for that insidious institution.
Young blacks must always remember that their legacy in our nation was forged upon the backs of Africans stolen from their native land or sold by African tribal leaders to white slave merchants.
There is not a lot of information in most history books about the dreaded Middle Passage, which discusses the conditions of Africans shackled together and put in the bowels of slave ships that made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to North America.
There was no mention of it in history books I had in the Youngstown school system in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, I didn't find out about the Middle Passage until I went to college.
A book that discusses in detail the evils of slavery and the arduous trip forced upon human beings of another color from another continent is Lerone Bennett's "Before the Mayflower."
Conditions for war: The economy of the Southern states relied heavily on slave labor and the leaders in the South were determined to maintain their way of life. History shows that Abraham Lincoln initially viewed the Civil War only in terms of preserving the Union.
That changed, however, with his proclamation, which he actually issued in September 1862 and which he stated would go into effect on Jan. 1, 1863.
Douglas T. Miller, who writes for Liberty Online and who did a study of Lincoln's historic document, says Lincoln's proclamation "did show Americans -- and the world -- that the civil war was now being fought to end slavery."
The proclamation actually freed few people. It did not apply to slaves in border states fighting for the Union. It also did not affect slaves in Southern areas already under Union control, Miller writes.
The Emancipation Proclamation, a war powers act, did allow slaves to legally leave their masters and made the abolition of slavery a Civil War goal. The proclamation also laid the groundwork for passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865, which legally ended slavery.
Gordon Leidner, who authored an online article for Great American History, points out that before the Civil War, Congress, in February 1861, had passed a 13th Amendment to guarantee "the legality and perpetuity of slavery in the slave states." He said it was passed in a futile effort to preclude the war.
The war started, however, before it could be sent to the slave states for ratification.
Abolitionist pressure: The final version of the amendment that ended slavery had to be pushed through Congress by Lincoln. It also was Lincoln who backed congressmen to insist that Southern state legislatures must adopt the amendment before their states would be allowed to return with full rights to Congress, Leidner writes.
Lincoln, who history says believed in white supremacy, was moved to write his proclamation because of the strong abolitionist movement at that time.
History also says it took all his political savvy to get the modified 13th Amendment through Congress. The fact the amendment had a hard time getting passed nearly two years after Lincoln's proclamation shows that a large body of elected representatives from the North were either indifferent or opposed to freeing the slaves, Leidner says.
All Americans should rightly acknowledge the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation because it marked the beginning of the end of an ugly, disgusting and disgraceful period in this nation's history.
XFor additional information on slavery, check the Web site, www.afroam.org