Much progress has been made, but as a nation we still struggle with race relations.
In 1619, Virginia enacted slave codes that institutionalized slavery and “drew the color line” between whites and blacks. The Revolutionary War ended in 1783 and our Constitution was ratified in 1788. The Founding Fathers left slavery legal, every generation since has struggled with that legacy. The central paradox of pre-Civil War American history was the uneasy co-existence of slavery and democracy.
Slavery and segregation existed in America for two centuries before Little Falls became a village in 1811.
New York abolished slavery in 1833. By the time of the Civil War, there were around three million slaves in America, the national population was thirty million. Slavery was concentrated in the south, but there were also thousands of slaves in the north. Little Falls had an unknown number of slaves and free blacks prior to 1833. Free blacks still resided in Little Falls after 1833.
Either directly or indirectly, slavery was the cause of the Civil War.
On January 1, 1863 Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the Confederate states and following the war, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were added to the Constitution. In theory, African Americans became free citizens with voting rights.
In reality, antebellum slavery gave way to post-Civil War racism and legal segregation; freedom came without true emancipation. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was constitutional. Jim Crow segregation and prejudice lived on. Although rare in the north, black lynchings were celebrated commonplace occurrences in the south through the 1920’s: Segregated Negro League baseball teams existed through the 1940’s.
Legal segregation was not overturned until the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Little Rock Nine followed.
In the early 1960’s, televised images of non-violent civil rights protestors being beaten in southern cities shocked the conscience of a nation. The 24th Amendment (no poll taxes), the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act followed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination shocked a nation once more.
Racial harmony remains elusive. The dedication of a monument marking the “Colored Burial Ground” in Church Street Cemetery honoring an unknown number of forgotten black people buried therein is a reflection of community tolerance. The dedication of this monument also represents the completion of the last dream of a good man, City Historian Edwin Vogt.
The City of Little Falls, Enea Family Funeral Services, Burdick Enea Memorials and the Little Falls Historical Society have proudly united to complete this dream and to take this step at a difficult time in American history. May our community tolerance serve as an example of America’s better instincts.