Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don't Be Silent! Do Something!

Our display of information about the documents that we analyzed in class.
Before April Vacation, our class has been learning about the civil war and the role that slavery played in it. We had multiple essential questions this unit: Who 'gave' freedom to enslaved Americans? Did freedom come from above or below? To what extent were Abraham Lincoln's actions influenced the actions of enslaved Americans? In order to find out if freedom came from ‘above or below’, we analyzed many documents. These documents included speeches given by Abraham Lincoln, letters, and engravings. We also watched a video by Ken Burns and answered questions. Lastly, we created a way to display our analyzed information from the different documents that we analyzed. We decided whether or not freedom came from above or below in each separate document. We used our new whiteboards to show this information.
When Abraham Lincoln officially makes slavery part of the civil war in his Second Inaugural Address, he paves the path for what is known as ‘freedom from above’. ‘Freedom from above’ can be understood by thinking of a social pyramid in which the upper class is at the top of the pyramid and the lower class is at the bottom of the pyramid. During the civil war, slaves were at the bottom of the pyramid. With the concept of ‘freedom from above’, the upper classes are making changes to give the lower class freedom. In the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln is granting slaves in the Confederacy freedom. Since this freedom came from Abraham Lincoln and not from the slaves themselves, this is ‘freedom from above’. Lincoln says, “all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”. But this freedom is not a complete freedom for all slaves in America. The slaves in the border states, the states that allow slavery but side with the Union, are not freed in the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation is an example of partial freedom from above. Abraham Lincoln was a major source of ‘freedom from above’ for slaves in America.
In addition to focusing on ‘slavery from above’, we also explored ‘slavery from below’. Instead of relying on others to make them free (like in ‘slavery from above’), slaves created their own opportunities for freedom. In a letter from Union General Ambrose E. Burnside to Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Burnside explains that after taking his army south, they came across a deserted city that fugitive slaves are now populating. He explains that there is no way to stop the slaves from moving into and looting the city. In this instance, the slaves are creating their own freedom. They are forcing the Union to react to their actions. By creating their own freedom, the slaves have ‘freedom from below’. Slaves also created their own freedom by leaving the Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s plantation and walking to the bayou that Union soldiers are occupying. They do this in order to escape slavery. Jefferson’s slaves made their own freedom. This is considered ‘freedom from below”.
I believe that ‘freedom from below’ was more effective than ‘freedom from above’ during the civil war. I believe this because of the results of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation compared to the results of the slaves creating their own freedom in the south, such as Jefferson’s slaves running away, and the other slaves who ran away to occupy the empty city.  When Lincoln declared that all slaves in the Confederate states were free, there was no immediate effect. But when slaves declared themselves free, such as in the case of Jefferson’s runaway slaves, the slaves were instantly freed. It is easier to get results when people aren’t completely dependent on others.
Recently, there have been a lot of debates over the role of law enforcement in the United States. During this past week, there have been protests and riots in Baltimore, Maryland. The death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year old African American man, who died in police custody, is the cause of the protests and riots. The goal of these protests and riots is to call attention to the unfair treatment of African Americans by police officers, and other law enforcement, and to the abuse of power by some law enforcement. The Baltimore protests and riots could be viewed as ‘freedom from below’. Ordinary citizens who do not agree with the abuse of power by some people in law enforcement are creating a change, instead of the government creating the change. Whether or not they are acting justly by destroying property and hurting people is questionable, but the people are fighting for change, and the country is beginning to pay attention.

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