To what extent were African-American slaves “free” after the abolition of slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863? What challenges did they face after their emancipation? This is a subject of continued interest. History is rife with records of decades of untold torture and harrowing experiences. African-American slaves suffered at the hands of their captors and masters. They were denied all natural rights as human beings and forced to live like animals. A slave was viewed as one-third of a person and the property of their owner(s) and treated as objects, mere things. One would therefore assume that after their emancipation, life would become significantly better because the slaves were free to move away from the torturous hands of their masters. Indeed these slaves were truly hopeful to live as free people in their new land of opportunities. Regrettably, many of them faced incredible opposition and discrimination even after emancipation.
Being emancipated from slavery did not, for instance, make the former slaves enjoy equal treatment as the white population. Life continued to be unbearable for them. Thus by and large, the emancipation of the African-American slaves did not truly free them nor directly lead to an increased quality of life or standard of living. It was only the beginning of that dream.
Over the course of many centuries the idea of freedom has been tossed back and forth, constantly being modified to fit the standards of those times. This ideology has also steadily progressed through history. As far back as history can tell us, freedom was virtually non-existent. People were under the absolute rule of kings and monarchs. As revolts and rebellions occurred against these monarchs the idea of freedom gradually evolved. Citizens began to recognize that they were equal as human beings and had rights, thus refused to blindly follow their incapable leaders any longer. With this change also came a revolution in the government. Other forms of leading a nation were being considered besides the ever so popular and prominent monarchy, such as a constitutional monarchy in which the people were given significantly greater freedom and involvement in decision making processes, which would eventually become a rough design for our modern day democracy. But in the case of African slaves in the United States, this hierarchy of absolute power and control appeared insurmountable. Forced to live terrible lives on plantations at the hands of their masters in horrendous conditions, being free someday was all they had to keep them going. This wish was fulfilled in 1863 with the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. The slaves were now free to become independent and lead their own lives. But emancipation, as a matter of fact, was only a large stepping stone for the slaves.
But for a few ‘privileged’ slaves who served as house servants, the "sunrise-to-sunset" back-breaking jobs on farms and plantations became their vocation for which many were unaccustomed to. They were punished for any flimsy reason with a variety of objects and instruments including whips, knives, guns and field tools. They were hanged, forced to walk a treadmill, placed in chains and shackles or in various contraptions such as thick and heavy metal collars with protruding spikes that made fieldwork difficult and prevented the slave from sleeping while lying down. Even the most kindly and humane masters used the threat of violence to force these field hands to work from dawn to dusk.
Runaways were also heavily punished, mercilessly flogged in the presence of all the slaves assembled from the neighboring plantations, chained with heavy weights round the neck, or chained to another person, sometimes of the opposite sex for an extended period and flogged repeatedly. As if that were not enough, the wounds of the slaves whipped were burst and rubbed with turpentine...
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