Guest column/Things have changed, but there’s still a long way to go
In the year 1619, 20 Africans were imported to Jamestown.
They were regarded as indentured servants — the same as slaves. However, there were many states throughout the United States that were a part of the anti-slavery movement.
The abolotionist movement was the political and social movement to end slavery. The idea that slavery was morally wrong first gained widespread acceptance in the United States during the American Revolution.
Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams, spoke for many when she wrote that it was hypocritical for colonists to demand liberty for themselves while denying it to slaves.
Other well-known whites who advocated an end to slavery included Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, the Marquis de Lafayette, Noah Webster and John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Massachusetts courts abolished slavery in that state in 1783, noting that the new state constitution declared that all men are born free and equal. Pennsylvania had moved even earlier, in 1780, to provide for gradual emancipation.
By 1804, all states north of Delaware had passed laws aimed at freeing the slaves, and abolitionists had succeeded in outlawing slavery in all territory covered by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Other major abolitionist political battles in the United States involved the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott case, the Amistad mutiny and the Creole mutiny.
In 1833, the Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Philadelphia by a more moderate group from Great Britain.
In 1840, another major abolitionist organization was set up. Though blacks were very active in these groups, they had begun organizing on their own even earlier. By 1830, African-Americans in the northern United States had formed at least 50 committees to help fugitive slaves escape and to raise money to purchase others still in captivity.
The best known abolitionist newspaper was William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator. Approximately 90 percent of its 450 first-year subscribers were African-Americans, even though it was issued at a time when slaves were generally forbidden from learning how to read, let alone subscribe, to a newspaper, or too poor to buy one. People caught with abolitionist newspapers or literature in their possession were often subjected to physical abuse and criminal charges. A Georgia man who had subscribed to the Liberator was tarred and feathered, set on fire and then whipped by a mob. A Maryland court sentenced a free African-American man, Sam Green, to 10 years in prison, merely for having a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
African-Americans feared a conversation between each other regarding a book, because of the torture in their lives.
In spite of the violent reaction they frequently incurred, abolitionists continued to make an impact, even among slaveholders.
The political and social movements of the abolitionists were a blessing in the 1700s. They saw that all men were created equal, being that their goal was to end slavery.
There are no words to describe slavery. Equal justice under the law is for the black, white, rich, poor, Jew, Gentile, Protestant and Catholic — all people.
Slavery in the United States came to an end with the Civil War, during which President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in Confederate-held territory, and, afterward, with the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, freeing all slaves in U.S. territory.
Oh, what a blessing — however, we have many miles to go as we continue.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, keep us forever in thy path, we pray.
(Wiggins is the president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus.)