President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation Executive Order went into effect on January 1, 1863, but blacks desired to be active in their emancipation. A few months after the President issued the Proclamation, slaves ran away from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and other Southern states. Slaves were no longer willing to be exploited or subjugated. Some slaves followed the Union troops for protection and became contrabands of war which created their freedom and influenced the Union war policy.
Emancipated slaves worked in Union camps as cooks, laborers for the soldiers, or servants to white officers. Later they would guard Union weapons, and in the last two years of the war, served as soldiers. These were the steps taken to destroy slavery from within and create freedom for themselves.
Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, escaped persecution and came to New York City. He embraced Radical Republicanism and became a phenomenally successful political cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly. He created a stunning intricate image to illustrate the Emancipation Proclamation called “Emancipation of the Negroes -The Past and the Future.” Its allegorical platform illustrated the violence and horrors of slavery and presented what the future might represent: inclusion, toleration, and unity for the freed African Americans.
The left side of the large drawing possesses scenes of the slave auction, beatings of slaves, vicious dogs hunting down slaves who are trying to escape, separation of families, and branding of slaves. The middle illustration is what freed blacks might have, a typical setting. They are gathered around a stove that has the Union brand. Their home is well-appointed, and the multi-generational family looks prosperous.
The right side is hopeful with black children attending school, people getting paid for their work, and a multicultural group is shown with new opportunities. Finally, Father Time holds a baby who breaks the shackles of slavery.
Freedom did not occur instantly with the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation or with the Civil War’s end.