Emancipation Proclamation discussed on 150th

Published 12:34 am Sunday, September 23, 2012

When Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago Saturday, it set forth a power struggle that, after festering for decades, erupted into small scale racial warfare in Warren County, Park Ranger Dr. David Slay said.

About 20 people gather in the shade of the trees surrounding the Shirley House Saturday morning at Vicksburg National Military Park to hear Slay read the proclamation that ended slavery in the South and lecture about its intended and unintended consequences.

“It’s a very controversial document. It was then and it is today,” Slay said. “People still argue over the meaning of it.”

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The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t take effect until Jan. 1., 1863 and allowed the Union to induct freedmen into the army. The Confederacy, of course, did not give up its labor force without a fight, Slay said.

“This is paper only until the troops occupied this region,” Slay said.

The proclamation also paved the way for reconstruction and establish the first blacks in southern government. Reconstruction, Slay said, is a lot like modern nation building that frequently dominates news from Afghanistan and previously Iraq.

“In 1863, the U.S. was really getting its first taste of nation building,” Slay said.

Tensions were high in Warren County during reconstruction, and the hostility came to a head in December 1874 during the tenure of Sheriff Peter Crosby, a black Civil War veteran.

On Dec. 2, 1874, a group of about 500 members of white militias marched on the courthouse and refused to pay their local taxes, Slay said. The following Sunday, Crosby handed out pamphlets at black churches across the county calling up his own militia.

“Some of them came armed, and some of them didn’t,” Slay said.

The black militia wasn’t looking for a fight and leaders told their men not to fire at the whites, Slay said. On Dec. 7, 1874, gunfire erupted between the militias, and 29 blacks and two whites were killed near the area of the modern day monument to Confederate Gen. John Pemberton in the military park.

“The bodies laid there for days because people were scared to go get them,” Slay said.

Retaliation killings and attacks followed for weeks, Slay said. Some accounts recall as many as a 11 people being kidnapped from the Shirley House and killed, he said.

“We don’t know the number of people dragged out of their houses and killed,” he said.

The riots led to whites intimidating black voters to drive Crosby and other African Americans from office, Slay said.