Henry A. Rhodes
Even though slavery in the United States ended with the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, the wounds inflicted by the “peculiar institution” are still being felt today. Current racial tensions can be attributed in part to the legacy of slavery. Black Americans have not forgotten nor completely forgiven white Americans for the harsh treatment that their ancestors meted out to the Negro slave. At the same time some of the ancient prejudices and myths about slaves have been passed on to young white students by parents who cling to the idea of white racial superiority. Racism is a problem that has plagued almost every part of the world at one time or another. But one would think that, 120 years after the emancipation of the American slave, racism would have died out. Such is not the case.
Of course it would be misleading to suggest that great strides have not been made in the United States to rid ourselves of racism. Still, a historical understanding of the circumstances surrounding emancipation can help students understand the persistence of such attitudes despite the progress made over the past century.
Students who are taught this unit may find it very ironic and puzzling that some of the historical figures who were most influential in emancipating the slave harbored racist attitudes toward the American Negro. Then as now, racism and humanitarianism coexisted. It is the obligation of the American educational system not only to teach young Americans the basic skills but also to help students come to terms with the racial issue that has troubled our country since the early sixteen hundreds. I think that this can be accomplished by having students study the period in American history when the controversy over slavery came to a head. It is my hope that the facts about the Lincoln Era will help dispel some of the misconceptions held by both black and white students about this period in American history and at the same time explain why racism did not come to an end with the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation.