WASHINGTON, D.C. – CBC Chairman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) delivered remarks during the Congressional Commemoration in honor of the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States.
Chairman Butterfield’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
On behalf of the 46 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, I would like to thank Speaker Paul Ryan and Congressional Leaders for authorizing and sponsoring this historic program. We thank President Obama for his participation and issuing a 13th Amendment Proclamation last week.
The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment is arguably the most important day in African American history and, indeed, American history. Thank you, Speaker Ryan and President Obama.
The year was 1830. Two million slaves resided in the United States. In addition, there were 300,000 free people of color who had obtained their freedom. Many of them were engaged in business and were prospering. Some had the audacity to attempt to teach slaves to read and write. Some became preachers of the word of God. Free blacks were doing great things, but they ran into resistance from slave holding states.
In 1830 and 1831, many southern states, particularly my home State of North Carolina, made it unlawful to teach a slave to read or write. They also made it unlawful for any free person of color (or slave) to preach in public, or officiate as a preacher or teacher in any prayer meeting or other worship where slaves of different families were gathered.
The punishment for committing either crime was a fine for whites; for free persons of color (or slave offenders), the punishment was a sentence of twenty to thirty-nine lashes on the back.
The teaching of slaves and the preaching by free blacks was greatly impeded, but it did not end. Slavery continued.
Ladies and Gentleman, the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Leaders are now proud to present you with a historic narrative about the challenging path along the road to Abolition.
You will find a ratification timeline printed on the back of your program.