June 19th, 1865
The United States of America had stopped participating in the Transatlantic Slave Trade about 57 years earlier.
The Civil War (fought between the Confederate states and the United States of America had ended only a couple months earlier on April 9th, 1865. The Confederacy was 11 Southern states, including Texas, that seceded from the United States when President Abraham Lincoln was elected.
President Lincoln had been assassinated a couple months earlier, only a week after the Civil War ended, on April 15th, 1865.
September 22, 1862
Three years earlier, the preliminary Emancipation proclamation was issued by President Lincoln as a wartime decree: Did he know he may die at any moment?
Taking effect in January of 1863 while the Civil War continued, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all enslaved people in the United States.
It freed enslaved people in Confederate states who were forced to fight with the Confederate army, and welcomed them to fight with the Union or United States. This wartime strategy not only depleted the Confederate army of soldiers but increased the strength of the US forces.
It was a declaration that people who were enslaved could not be forced to fight for their continued enslavement. It boggles the mind, and is so painful to consider:
How could one could be asked to die to fight for someone else to own them?
How could the solution be to invite them to die for their freedom?
This is the language that let people who were enslaved in Texas during the Civil War know they were free:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
This language not only tries to redefine a generations-old, violent way of life as a professional choice: It also asks people to stay with the people who enslaved them; To not take up arms; To not be lazy.
The most insidious quality of racism is the unspoken messages, the invisible structure. At every level, this shows up as defaults or preferences driven by White supremacy.
White Supremacy is simply: Beliefs and ideas purporting natural superiority to and exerting control of the lighter-skinned, or “white,” human races over other racial groups with darker skin, especially black groups. A great lie has been told to convince us that only terrorist groups believe in White Supremacy. The belief itself exists outside of terrorist actions, and that’s where it’s most effective.
The proof of racism is clear in every power structure in the world: Government, Justice, Entertainment, Business, Faith, Real Estate, Education, Healthcare are all overwhelmingly led by White men.
These power structures are built on systems of exclusion. In some cases these are actual country clubs with generational ownership. In other cases, they are bodies of government, law, unions, and boards that look like country clubs with generational ownership, but are not.
How does this exclusion work? Through language first. Then law enforcement.
I highlight this as we fight for justice because targeting law enforcement is the most immediate and effective way to stop more harm. We can never calculate the cost of harm already done. But we can focus our understanding and effort.
What does that language look like?
Our Constitution doesn’t refer to White male landowners or to Black enslaved people. But the history of how law has been interpreted makes it clear the Constitution was meant for White men who had taken possession of land to form the Colonies.
This language from the Constitution of the United States helps form the core infrastructure of racism. Law Enforcement carry out the spirit of the law.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
This means black people are considered less than human (specifically 3/5 less), and limits our rights to representation and the same freedoms afforded to citizens in the Bill of Rights.
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
This means our Constitution actually specifically protects state’s rights to participate in the Transatlantic Slave Trade until 1808, when the enslaved population was self-sustaining and the US would finally act to end the trade. Until then, the federal government would collect taxes on enslaved people brought to the United States.
Article IV. Section 2
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
This means our Constitution protects the enforcement of slavery on a Federal level by returning people who fled to freedom in states that had outlawed slavery, to the slave state they escaped from. This part of the Constitution led to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. That led to the US Marshall Service, the first Law Enforcement Agency in the US. They were established to enforce this law.
December 6, 1865
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. (This affects Article IV. Section 2 above.)
After the Civil War ended, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery for the United States. This amendment specifies that slavery is still legal as punishment for a crime. None of the Constitutional language declares that slavery is immoral, that Black people are human, or that it is inhumane to deny human beings civil liberties.
June 13, 1866- July 9, 1868
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. (This affects Article I, Section 2 above.)
This declares birthright citizenship for all, and at this point Black people were the only non-citizens affected. Basically, this says the Bill of Rights also applies to formerly enslaved people. The language wasn’t specific enough.
February 3, 1870
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The fifteenth Amendment finally allows Black men the right to vote. The language still wasn’t specific enough.
August 18th, 1920
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
The Women’s Suffrage movement was heavily divided by the knowledge that while Black women fought for voting rights, they would not be allowed to vote. The language of the Nineteenth Amendment wasn’t specific enough either.
August 6th, 1965
The Voting Rights Act was passed, as the Constitution itself doesn’t offer strong enough protection to ensure Black men or women have the right to vote.
I shared this history to help paint the picture of exactly what law is being enforced by law enforcement. Videos of murder and of police brutality have moved us to fight passionately.
We have already won.
Our nation will never be the same.
As we gear up for the long haul, let’s equip ourselves with the stamina needed for a marathon. The US has suffered for centuries. We can and must prepare ourselves to commit to a decades-long dismantling of and atoning for her greatest wrongs.