June 15 is now a federal holiday. But her story is complicated


Suzanne Ross was a three-year-old slave living in Texas when she learned her family was free. Ever since I was a child, I remember the excitement when my brother heard the news.

“When my brother found out we were free, he gave him a hoop, ran over a high fence and said goodbye to his mother,” she told Federal Writers decades later. ‘Project in the 1930s. I spoke to an official in connection with the slave accounts collected.

He then picked her up, hugged her and kissed her, leaving the farm as a free black man.

“I don’t know where he is going, but I never saw him again,” she said.

Ross and his family were among the thousands of Texas slaves finally freed in June 1865. Today is celebrated on June 16, a national holiday.

The new June 17 holiday celebrates the end of slavery, centered around the arrival of the Union Army in Texas on June 19, 1865, despite the Emancipation Proclamation issued two and a half years ago. There is release news. But Juneteenth did not mean immediate freedom for everyone. Those who were enslaved in Native American territory had to wait another year to be released. And despite the legal end of slavery, white Southerners quickly enacted a racist law called the “Black Law,” which restricted the freedom of blacks over the next several decades.

Slavery on Amerindian territory

The first step in the abolition of slavery began on January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This declaration issued all the emancipation proclamations of the Confederate states, but not the states that formed the north-south border. .. Slavery has existed in two border states, Delaware and Kentucky, for about six months from June 16, with the state legislature rejecting the Thirteenth Amendment after it was passed by Congress in January 1865.

The next big step was the end of the Civil War in April 1865 and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, prohibiting slavery “in the United States or anywhere under its jurisdiction.” did.

However, Native American countries were not subject to American jurisdiction due to issues of slavery. Since 1865, approximately 10,000 people have remained in slavery among the five major tribes of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.

Barbara Krautamar, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, said: “But there is also this story of Native Americans joining the Chattel slavery system and making economic and political decisions to acquire black people as property. slave.”

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Alaina Roberts, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, said Native Americans adopted Black Chattel slavery from Europeans as early as the 1500s. However, she said, these five specific tribes began to assimilating into Euro-American culture in the late 1700s, including owning slaves as a means of accumulating wealth.

The purpose and value of slaves in Native American territory was similar to those enslaved in the Deep South. According to Roberts, the men were used for agricultural work such as planting crops, tending cotton fields, and grazing cattle. The wife took care of the housework – cooking, cleaning, laundry and gardening.

Union soldiers stationed in Native American territory believed that slavery was incomparable to the movable property slavery that existed in the south.

“There was a consensus among the White Army that had been with the Indians for almost a year that Negro slavery was only in name,” Civil War soldier Wily Britton wrote in his book. Indian brigade united in civil war. “

However, Slave Narrative tells both sides of the story. Many slaves spoke of their masters’ kindness, while others highlighted brutal aspects, including beatings and rapes.

“Old Master Frank never worked hard for us and had a lot of great food,” Choctaw owner Frank Colbert said. However, Prince Bee, a former slave from Native American territory, said the brutal beatings he received when he tried to escape blinded him in one eye.

“The old master whispered to him until blood spread all over his body. Bullwhip has always cut deep, ”he recalls. “He finished whipping with a wet, rough towel and finally saw my brother.”

Native American nations existed as autonomous political bodies, which gave them autonomy. Neither the Emancipation Proclamation nor the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution applied to their territory. The freedom of slaves had to be negotiated.

It was not until the spring and summer of 1866 that the five tribes agreed to the final terms of their respective treaties with the United States and officially ended slavery on Native American territory. , according to Krausummer. ..

Ai told Federal Writers Program workers in 1937 that she cried to heaven when she learned she was a free woman in 1866.

“I was happy to be free,” said a 93-year-old woman. “Well, I clap my hands in a joke, ‘Thank you Almighty God, I’m finally free! “

Black law and prisoner loan

After the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 and Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, the task of rebuilding the South was given to President Andrew Johnson. But it mainly allowed the southern states to rebuild themselves.

In May 1965, Johnson pardoned a former Confederate official who was ready to pledge allegiance to the United States. This allowed the former Confederates to regain political power in the South almost immediately after the war. Instead of including the newly released people in the new order, politicians set out to restore elements of the old order.

Southern states enacted a series of oppressive laws called “black law,” restricting the freedom of movement of blacks and giving whites in the south the legal justification for continuing to impose forced labor on blacks. ..

Black law varied from one southern state to another. African Americans had to sign an annual labor contract with a white landowner. The Mississippi Act of 1865 authorized courts to jail black adults who did not have “legal employment” by the second Monday in January each year.

Other southern states, such as South Carolina, have demanded that all black employees be designated as “servants” and employers as “masters.” A Louisiana parish passed a black law requiring that “all blacks … enlist in the regular service of whites or former landlords who should be responsible for their actions.”

“These were laws designed to prevent African Americans from fully exercising their freedom,” said Michael Ross, professor of history at the University of Maryland.

According to Ross, it was a crime for blacks to carry guns, drink alcohol, or gather in small groups after sunset. By enforcing these racist and trivial laws, the southern states were able to involve thousands of blacks in the justice system and wrest free labor from them.

Portrait of a Southern Chain gang circa 1900s. The convict rental system evolved from post-Civil War black law.  As a result, blacks were jailed for the most trivial crimes and subsequently hired as self-employed workers in the company.

Petty crimes can be filled with harsh judgments. And this series of irrational and superficial laws imprisoned blacks who gave way to the system of convict tenancies. This rapidly growing prisoner loan system in the late 19th century allowed businesses and farmers to borrow prisoners from the state for free labor.

“Instead of being locked in a county jail, people were often arrested, accused of wandering and loaned to local farmers,” said Ahmed White, a law professor at the University of Colorado.

The prisoners were also responsible for building railways, working in the mines and tending the fields. Without trivial crimes or crimes, blacks provided free labor to boost the economy of the post-slavery South.

Often chained, beaten, malnourished, overworked, the loan of prisoners suffered horrible situations. In 1887, a grand jury in Hinds County, Mississippi released a report detailing the abuses of the convict rental system in the state. He said the prisoners were “treated more cruelly and cruelly than the barbarian nation should allow the prisoners to inflict.”

The grand jury observed their unsanitary living conditions, including the physical abuse they suffered and the mice crawling all over their faces.

According to a grand jury report in 1887, “They were lying there, died, some were on bare, poor, thin planks, so the bones almost went through the skin, and many complain about the lack of food. The grand jury concluded the report by saying, “God will never smile in a country that treats prisoners like Mississippi.” “

The enactment of black legislation, which allowed the development of the convict hire system, was an important way for politicians in the South to maintain the essence of slavery, Ross said.

“Despite the fact that slavery was over, there was a set of laws designed to create separate worker castes in the South,” he said. “Restrictions on black freedom have ensured that African Americans remain second-rate. “


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