By Bob Ray Sanders
No! I will never forget slavery. Just as many of you will never forget the oppression – indeed, extermination – of your fore- parents in foreign lands, discrimination in their new country or their constant battle for inclusion and acceptance in a place they came to call home.
No! I will never forget slavery or its illegitimate son, Jim Crow, no matter how often you tell me to “Get over it” and “Let it go” because “This is a new day.”
And, yes, I shall always remind you of it, especially at this time of year when we commemorate the emancipation of blacks in Texas.
On June 19, 1865, blacks in my home state officially received the news of freedom when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island and declared:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
The institution of slavery is a dark part of American history which we must never forget, just as we – all of us, regardless of color or heritage – should always celebrate its demise.
It is a chapter from our past that we must continue to study and learn from, not as a way of making others feel guilty or beholden, but as an attempt to understand how it is we got to this point.
Speaking of chapters and continued learning on the subject, a new eye-opening book by a local writer sheds much light on slaves and freemen who served in American wars leading up to and including the War of 1812, the major conflict I think Americans know the least about.
“The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812” was written by Gene Allen Smith, professor of history and director of the Center for Texas Studies at Texas Christian University.
I’ve always been aware that blacks fought in every major war this country has waged, often returning home afterward to broken promises, little praise for their efforts and less than first-class citizenship (or slavery itself).
But Smith’s book, in intricate detail, tells the amazing accounts of blacks’ alliances with Native American tribes, their participation in the American War for Independence (including the Battles of Lexington and Concord) and slaves’ and freeman’s amazing efforts on both sides of the War of 1812.
Although white Americans for years had feared putting arms in the hands of black people, particularly slaves and ex-slaves who might turn on them in revenge, it became apparent that their manpower was needed if there was any hope for this country to win that war.
That was particularly true, as Smith explains, since the British were doing a grand job of recruiting slaves along the Southern coasts and Spanish Florida with the promise of freedom. From the early stages of the war, with the Siege of Detroit in the North, British troops had added runaway slaves to their ranks.
By the time of the Battle of New Orleans, toward the war’s end, Andrew Jackson, a slave holder, had realized that he needed black soldiers to keep the British at bay.
Again, with the promise of money, land and freedom the recruits came, as did slaves ordered into service by their owners.
Smith points out that before the War of 1812, the appetite for slavery in America was waning, but afterward Southerners became more entrenched and slavery expanded with the addition of more slave-holding states in the South and Southwest.
Some of those who had fought in the war on both sides were returned to their masters as “property,” and even for many of those who were freed, including the thousands the British “evacuated” to island colonies, life was less than ideal.
It would take another war to finally end slavery, and even then many blacks were trapped in a system of second-class citizenship.
No, we must never forget it.
BOB RAY SANDERS is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.