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This Juneteenth, remember Americans who put slavery on the path to extinction


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Jewish World Review

Michael Barone

June 18 2021

This week, the Senate unanimously passed a bill declaring Juneteenth a national holiday — commemorating June 19, 1865, when a Union general informed the last enslaved people in Texas that, thanks to the 13th Amendment, they were free. This was the denouement of a long process, begun more than fourscore years before and cruelly delayed for many decades.

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In Illinois, a key role was played by Edward Coles, a young private secretary to President James Madison who brought his inherited slaves to the prairies, bought them farmland, and freed them. As governor of Illinois in the 1820s, Coles defeated the Legislature's attempt to legalize slavery, a story told dramatically in Suzanne Cooper Glasco's Confronting Slavery and in Kurt Leichtle and Bruce Carveth's Crusade Against Slavery.

Coles lived to witness the 13th Amendment and the original Juneteenth. This Juneteenth is a good time to remember him and the many others who strived to put American slavery on the path to extinction and, thankfully, finally succeeded.

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