President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring “that all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforward shall be free.”
That’s the day, until recently, America observed its end of the enslavement of Africans and their descendants.
In recent years, more and more people observe something called Juneteenth as the actual end of slavery. It became an official federal holiday in 2021. Sorry Abe.
Juneteenth, which is shorthand for June 19th, marks the day when federal troops freed what was believed to be the last remaining slaves in Texas in 1865.
That’s what we’ve been taught was the end of this sad chapter in American history.
Hundreds of years of forced labor, abuse, rape, cultural erase, beatings and mental anguish finally had come to an end.
Or so we thought.
Sadly, slavery didn’t end for everyone in 1865.
Numerous white landowners did everything they could to exploit the newly freed slaves and kept the practice of slavery going in hiding for over half of the 20th century.
It wasn’t until recently that numerous people have come forward to tell the stories of their enslavement in America all the way into the 1960s. No, that wasn’t a typo.
Historian, slavery investigator and genealogist Antoinette Harrell uncovered a disturbing underground yet widespread practice of slavery for 100 years after slavery supposedly ended.
Mae Louise Walls Miller didn’t obtain her freedom from slavery until 1961, a mere three years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Miller explained that she and her mother were routinely raped and beaten by the white men who owned the land where they worked, which is why she feared attempting an escape or telling anyone about the slavery. Her father tried to escape once but was captured and then beaten in front of his wife and children. Her entire family was forced into labor and not allowed to leave.
Eventually, Miller escaped after her father beat her bloody to keep her from being beaten by their white enslavers first. She was rescued by a white family who returned to the farm to then rescue the rest of her family that night.
Others shared their experience of being enslaved well into the 1960s on the Waterford Plantation in St. Charles, Louisiana. The way it worked was a group of about 20 Black people had become indebted to the plantation owner and were not permitted to leave the property until their harvest made enough profit. Each year, the group was told there was no profit and they could try again next year. Some people didn’t break that cycle until the 1960s.
Former enslaved Arthur Miller and thousands of other Black men and women worked as so-called laborers on white owned plantation like farms for decades after slavery into 1960s.
He explained that nobody was allowed to leave, and if you tried, you’d be captured and then beaten or killed. Miller and other laborers were so cut off from the rest of the world, he and others weren’t even aware that there was a civil rights movement taking place in the rest of society.
This hidden slavery happened all over the south. Not just in Louisiana but also in places like Florida, Arkansas and Mississippi.
There are undoubtedly way more stories of 20th century American slavery we will never know about. I wouldn’t be shocked if it still exists.
So the next time you hear someone use the “it happened so long ago” excuse in response to America’s racist history, remember the thousands and thousands of Black men and women who suffered in slavery long after slavery was supposed to have ended.
Jeffrey Kass is an award-winning author and top 50 writer on racism, diversity and education on medium.com. His newest book (below) was released on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2023.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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