City Manager's Blog

Learn about the City of Roanoke from the City Manager's point of view.

View All Posts

Jun 22


Posted on June 22, 2020 at 11:41 AM by Melinda Mayo

“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.”

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Psalm 103:6

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal  or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Robert F. Kennedy

Juneteenth this year was recognized to a greater degree than in recent years—the City closing its offices for the first time and the Governor announcing he was initiating steps to make it an official State holiday.  These actions got me to thinking about the other dates that are notable in the slow and painful path toward freedom for enslaved Africans.  In this post, I note a few of them.

British Abolition

The British began their decades-long effort at abolishing slavery in 1807 with passage of the Slave Trade Act, and then in 1833 with passage of the Slavery Abolition Act (it took until 1838 for complete emancipation) . Slavery continued in Hindu and Muslim India until 1843.  These Acts were of great significance as, up to that time, the British had been responsible for enslaving more than two and a half million people.  The French had abolished slavery even earlier than the British, but Napoleon had reinstated it and the French would not again abolish it until the French Revolution in 1848.

Slave Rebellions

Enslaved people consistently fought to secure their freedom. The most notable rebellion was in the late 18th Century in Haiti, resulting in independence of enslaved Africans.  Rebellions occurred in the United States through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, including one of the most notable, occurring in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831.  In total, at least 250 such uprisings occurred in the United States.

Emancipation Proclamation 

Of course, the event that is Juneteenth begins nearly two and a half years prior to June 19, 1865, when President Lincoln, through issuance of an Executive Order, freed three and a half million enslaved people living in the secessionist Confederate States.  The Emancipation Proclamation made the freeing of enslaved peoples a primary objective of the Civil War, and thus helped ensure the British and French did not involve themselves further in the war.

The Proclamation did not free the enslaved in a number of states including the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and also those in West Virginia.  Freedom in these states would come through a series of state actions, the end of the Civil War, and ultimately amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

13th Amendment 

First passed in early 1865, the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution at last brought an official end to slavery across the entirety of the United States, freeing all who had previously been enslaved.  The Amendment was officially ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, and declared adopted on Dec. 18, 1865.  

Continued Racism

Of course, racism against African Americans did not end with the 13th Amendment.  Most previously slave-holding states quickly assembled a plethora of laws, regulations, and practices designed to continue the oppression of African Americans.  Many of these practices were emulated throughout the nation as African Americans migrated to the north and west.  These practices remained largely unabated until the mid-1960’s with the passage of various Acts and regulations. 

While Juneteenth celebrates freedom of those previously enslaved, the recent protests highlight the inequities that have persisted unabated for 400 years in the United States, and the need for change.  While it is vitally important to reflect upon each of the steps taken in securing freedom, it is even more critical that we join in looking forward to determine the steps necessary for genuine freedom and equity.

– Bob Cowell


You must log in before leaving your comment