At the crossroads of freedom and equality

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jessica Tabor
  • 28th Bomb Wing Equal Opportunity Office
In 1926, Dr. Carter Woodson created what is now known as Black History month - a month that celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history.

The theme this year is "At the crossroads of freedom and equality, The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington." This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that proclaimed slaves "forever free." This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, which was the largest human rights political rally in U.S. history.

Signed into effect by President Abraham Lincoln, on Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation contributed to the freedom of more than 3.1 million slaves, but initially only freed about 60,000 slaves. Nearly 200,000 ex-slaves were able to join the Union Army. This increased the fighting strength of the Union, which ultimately assisted in the north winning the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation did not make slavery illegal but was a precursor to the Thirteenth Amendment, passed in 1865, which outlawed slavery.

Though slavery was now illegal, African Americans still struggled and were not considered equal. Wages fluctuated, many were homeless, and those with jobs were likely in debt. While the Emancipation Proclamation assisted in the freedom of slaves, it did not create equality. In 1896, The Supreme Court decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson, created the "separate but equal" doctrine, which justified segregation.

On Aug. 28, 1963, over 250,000 marchers - approximately one quarter of them white - walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. The Great March on Washington in 1963 marked the 100th Anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The March ended with Dr. Martin Luther King's historical speech, "I have a dream."

The march aimed to increase not only human rights, but also civil and economic rights for African Americans. One year after the march, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended racial segregation in any public area and outlawed discrimination.

Looking back on 150 years of history, the fight for equality is a story that continues to grow every year. Learning from the past helps ensure the same injustices are not repeated. The strides made by a community set an example and show how a dream can create change.