A statue of Frederick Douglass was dedicated on June 19th in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Building. It’s been a long time coming, but the date, and the location, are eminently appropriate. Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and Nineteenth, celebrates the day that the final state of the failed Confederacy abolished slavery. So having the unveiling of the former slave turned great statesman and ardent abolitionist on Emancipation Day is as good an orchestrated roll out as could be imagined.
Douglass is a phenom in the history of freedom from slavery, and a story that deserves its own space for the telling. For now just recall that he was the most vocal “freeman” to push for emancipation. He pressed Abraham Lincoln and others and was often frustrated at the slow pace of change. So while Lincoln rightly deserves much credit for emancipating the slaves, Douglass deserves much more credit than history has recorded.
Emancipation didn’t come easy, of course, as the deaths of between 620,000 and 750,000 men from bullets and disease so graphically reminds us. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued initially in September 1862 and took effect on January 1, 1863. But the immediate impact was limited. It took the North winning the war, Congress passing the 13th Amendment, and ratification by the states for slaves to finally “be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Still, not all of the former Confederate states were happy to comply. It took a Union General, plus a couple of thousand armed troops, to effectively take over the last holdout – Texas – and declare that “all slaves are free.” That was June 19, 1865. Juneteenth.
So, as Lincoln would have paraphrased himself, it is altogether fitting and proper that a seven-foot bronze statue of Frederick Douglass be installed in the Capitol Building on Juneteenth. Emancipation Day.
More on Abraham Lincoln.