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“You say you have emancipated us…But when you turned us loose, you gave us no acres. You turned us loose to the sky, to the storm, to the whirlwind, and worst of all, you turned us loose to the wrath of our infuriated masters.”–Frederick Douglas 1876
Let me get right to it. Without reparations the Emancipation Proclamation may as well have been called the “Emasculation Proclamation.” I know. I know. All the good people who put a lot of energy into celebrating “Juneteenth” are going to call for my head to be placed on the proverbial chopping block. I know. I know. I’m probably going to catch a whipping from some of my most respected elders when they see me. Let me say, in my defense, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the freedom of an enslaved people. However, there is a difference between “emancipation” and freedom. Emancipation is something that is given to you. Whoever gives it to you also has to power to take it back. Freedom, however is something that you take and are willing to die for.
The term “emancipation” has a Latin root. It means “to freed from their hands, but not from their control.” Abraham Lincoln understood that by using the term “emancipation” he was freeing the physicality of the slave, not the mentality of the slave. He also knew that the slave’s future would be bleak as long as they were set free with no money, land or opportunity to create a dignified life in this “free world.” Many of the emancipated slaves soon returned to the plantation fields of their former masters in search of security. I guess they felt it was better to be a slave with a meal on the table than a free man on the side of the river bank praying that the fish ain’t sleep. Our ancestors went through hell. Literally!
Freedom, however, is different from emancipation. When a man or woman is free, they can live up to their full God-given potential. A free human being thinks, speaks, walks and acts in a way that an emancipated man or woman may be afraid to. If you deny a people the bare necessities of survival how can you expect them to operate as a free people? The plight of these two slaves named “Toby” and “Govie” were recorded in the history books to illustrate how difficult life became for the emancipated Black slave.
“I don’t know as I ‘spected nothing from freedom, but they turned us out like a bunch of stray dogs, no homes, no clothing, no nothing, not ‘nough food to last us one meal. After we settles on that place, I never seed man or woman, ‘cept Govie, for six years, ‘cause it was a long ways to anywhere. All we had to farm with was sharp sticks. We’d stick holes and plant corn, and when it come up we’d punch up the dirt round it. We didn’t plant cotton, ‘cause we couldn’t eat that. I made bows and arrows to kill wild game with, and we never went to a store for nothing. We made our clothes out of animal skins.”
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery. Given the fact that our ancestors were given no reparations for their 300 plus years of chattel slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation guaranteed that the institution of slavery would continue. A delegation of Black leaders visited Lincoln in the White House. This is what he said to them: “The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours…I cannot alter it if I would…It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.
We celebrate Juneteenth as the day in 1865 when the news of America’s emancipated slave finally reached Texas; two and one half years after the proclamation became law. By this time, slaves who had been “freed” in other states had already returned to the plantations because they realized they had nowhere to go. Many became sharecroppers. This sharecropping agreement ended up becoming, but another version of the same slave/slave master agreement. The Emancipation Proclamation was nothing but a symbol. What would have made it substantive is reparations for the centuries of back breaking, soul destroying, dehumanizing work that our forefathers did that made this country rich and powerful. Black people were the architects and the masons that built this country. With our sweat and blood we created wealth for White America. And we weren’t even given a “sack of potatoes” as a sendoff in 1863. Instead of celebrating Juneteenth, we should have been angry as hell.
The estimated value of the Black slaves at the time of their “emancipation” was at least 6 billion dollars. Six billion dollars in 1863 was an unbelievable amount of capital. What many don’t know is that instead of slaves receiving reparations many of the plantation owners in the South received reparations instead. That right! The government issued $300 per head for every emancipated slave. There was no forty acres for us. The mule that we were supposed to inherit ended up having a better quality of life than our ancestors. In 1870, nine out of ten Black adults could not read; and the tenth had no power to dispute what he could read.
The plan was the let the slave go on his own, but to starve him back into his former condition by giving him no other way to feed himself and his family. When a man is forced to return to his former slave master in order to survive it is emasculating and humiliating. It was all a game designed to preserve “The Union” and trick the slave into thinking his emancipation was synonymous with freedom. American fought a civil war…not a revolution. If America wants to atone for her ugly history she will have to issue more than a proclamation. She will have to, at some point, give reparations to the descendants of her once slaves. The symbols of freedom are no longer enough to pacify the current generation of warriors that we have produced.
(THANK YOU to the Nation of Islam’s National research team for much of the research used in this article.)