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County recognizes history-changing event
By J. David Barron, email@example.com
The Emancipation Proclamation was instantly recognized as one of the most important documents issued in the history of the United States when it was mandated by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863. It was a landmark event that forever changed the course of the nation.
Recognizing the milestone anniversary, the Denton County Office of History and Culture spearheaded a presentation during Tuesday's meeting of the county commissioners' court to celebrate the 150th observance of the instrument that led to the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Highlighting the celebration was a relative of a former slave reading aloud the Emancipation Proclamation. Yul Shelton represented his ancestor Tom Shelton, who was a former slave born in Kentucky who "literally was sold down the river - that's where that expression came from - into slavery at one of the slave markets like New Orleans or Natchez," Shelton said.
Shelton dressed in period garb and drawing upon his thespian ability to imitate the language mannerisms of the time, read the Proclamation in its entirety before the court.
"It's just another reminder of the basic freedoms we enjoy today that I think we should never take for granted."
Contrary to popular belief, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the United States. The document presented by our country's 14th president declared free only the slaves in the Confederate states that were not in the control of the Union. The decree read, "All persons held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."
The importance of the seemingly ironic position is that President Lincoln was making a larger political and strategic calculation. The United States Government could not afford to alienate slave-holding states such as Kentucky that were still loyal to the Union and therefore upset the balance of the war that was beginning to swing in favor of the North. This legislative strategy also delivered a powerful blow to the South's morale and allowed black men to join the war effort, significantly boosting enlistment for the Union Army. Most important of all it permanently tied the issue of slavery to the war and created a platform to abolish slavery altogether.
With this proclamation, Lincoln changed the fundamental nature of the war itself. What had begun as a conflict to restore the Union as it existed before the spring of 1861 became a struggle to create a new Union with a fresh perspective on human equality and civil rights.
The subsequent amendments that were born from the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery within the U.S. and anywhere subject to its jurisdiction; granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the country and granted them equal protection under the law, paving the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and prohibited states from disenfranchising voters "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Peggy Riddle, who serves as director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, said she believes that many of today's philanthropic outreaches began as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation.
"Once these four million people were released from slavery, they had nowhere to go and no one to help them get started," Riddle said. "We now have so many social services in place to help people with needs that actually began as a result of this milestone event. I think the Emancipation Proclamation made a lot of humanitarians out of people because we as a nation had to figure out how to help these people once they'd been freed. And now, we are the most philanthropic country in the world."
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