Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
On New Year's Day 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln signed the The Emancipation Proclamation which underlies his controversial reputation as "the
Great Emancipator." The Emancipation Proclamation and the politics of self-liberation:
Although the Emancipation Proclamation
did not, in fact, result in the overnight liberation of millions of
enslaved people, it enabled black men to fight on the Union side and has
long been seen as a milestone in the unconscionably slow attainment by
African-Americans of full citizenship, social equality and meaningful
On New Year's Eve, many African-American congregations
will have commemorated the "Watch Night" services of the last night of
1862 when many gathered in churches to "watch" for the long-awaited
issuance of the proclamation – which will also be read out at
anniversary ceremonies across the United States today. Long queues of
people are waiting to see the original document on rare and brief display at the National Archives in Washington DC.
[T]he proclamation was a largely symbolic gesture based on a canny
military calculus that transformed the civil war into a war ostensibly
about supporting or abolishing slavery, and that it would be two more
years before the 13th Amendment would legally prohibit enslavement[.]
* * *
It is possible to acknowledge, as one abolitionist did, that the
Emancipation Proclamation gave "liberty a moral recognition" if there is
also an understanding that no liberation, whether from colonialism or
slavery, takes place without the participation of those who are at the
receiving end of oppression. The former slave and great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was both critical of and worked alongside Lincoln, famously reminded his fellow blacks
that "power concedes nothing without a struggle". Tyranny's limits, he
noted, "are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress".
did not passively endure their lot but despite groundbreaking
historical studies in recent decades, which have shown how extensively
slaves in the United States and in British colonies resisted their
oppression in a variety of ways, the myth of freedom as conferred
bloodlessly from on high by white men upon passive black subjects
continues to exercise a tenacious hold on the western imagination.
It is time to get past the persistent idolisation of great men – while
noting the significant role they might have played – towards a better
understanding of how freedom was interpreted and fought for by larger
groups of people, including those at the receiving end of exploitation,
who often forged radical alliances across boundaries of race and class.
Such an attempt is not helped by films like Steven Spielberg's recent
biopic Lincoln, which has been justly criticised for reinforcing the historically inaccurate notion that blacks were passive in relation to their own emancipation.
In contrast, books such as historian Eric Foner's Forever Free, Robin Blackburn's The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery and the documentary collection Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation
show instead how black people variously organised in plantations and
towns, rose up in violent rebellion, fought alongside white allies,
escaped in droves to safe spaces, wrote letters and editorials,
travelled and gave speeches, exhorted their fellow slaves and freedmen
and lobbied the powerful. The politics of liberation anywhere in the
world unfolds both in presidential mansions and on the street.
"The arc of the moral universe Is long, but It bends toward justice." – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
UPDATE: The U.S. Postal Service has issued a commemorative stamp. Emancipation Proclamation (Forever) – The Postal Store @ USPS.com.