Politics & Government

NC leaders celebrate 150th anniversary of slavery’s end

From left, Civil War color guard reenactors Bernard George, Tom Hancock, Youngs Leff and Marvin Nicholson stand as an honor guard in the NC State Capitol while a visitor, center, gets a closer look at the state of North Carolina's original copy of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution Friday, December 4, 2015. Friday, December 4, 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the state's ratification of the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude and the enforcement of this law by appropriate legislation. A commemoration ceremony was held prior to this in the NC State House chamber at the Capitol, where the original document was signed 150 years ago today. The color guard reenactors were representing the 35th, 36th and 37th US Colored Troops Infantry and the 14th Heavy Artillery from the Civil War.
From left, Civil War color guard reenactors Bernard George, Tom Hancock, Youngs Leff and Marvin Nicholson stand as an honor guard in the NC State Capitol while a visitor, center, gets a closer look at the state of North Carolina's original copy of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution Friday, December 4, 2015. Friday, December 4, 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the state's ratification of the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude and the enforcement of this law by appropriate legislation. A commemoration ceremony was held prior to this in the NC State House chamber at the Capitol, where the original document was signed 150 years ago today. The color guard reenactors were representing the 35th, 36th and 37th US Colored Troops Infantry and the 14th Heavy Artillery from the Civil War. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Exactly 150 years after North Carolina legislators ratified the constitutional amendment ending slavery, state leaders gathered in the same room to recognize the anniversary.

The 100-4 House vote at the State Capitol on Dec. 4, 1865, made North Carolina the next-to-last state to approve the Thirteenth Amendment.

“Today we are gathered here to mark the moment when a generation of North Carolinians did their part, however imperfectly, to make our union more perfect,” said N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin, who spoke at Friday’s anniversary ceremony in the old state House chamber.

Martin highlighted the rapid change the amendment brought to North Carolina after years of Civil War.

“Just three years after ratification, 16 African-Americans were elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives, and three were elected to the state Senate,” he said. “We must mark this occasion by renewing our commitment to the goals of justice, tranquility and liberty.”

The State Archives put North Carolina’s copy of the amendment on display for a few hours. It’s hardly ever shown publicly because the 150-year-old paper is sensitive to light.

Also making a rare appearance: Gov. William Woods Holden, who led the state in the years following the Civil War. He was portrayed by Capitol docent Rick Walton, who reenacted Holden’s speech to the legislature supporting the amendment.

“It is the wish of our best friend, the president of the United States, that this be done,” a bespectacled Walton said.

Friday’s speakers didn’t mention another action the 1865 N.C. House took at the same time. A separate resolution stated that the Thirteenth Amendment “does not enlarge powers of Congress to legislate on the subject of freedmen within the States.”

The legislators added the resolution because they worried the amendment might allow the federal government to legislate civil rights. And according to William S. Powell’s “Encyclopedia of North Carolina,” the amendment got support because state lawmakers had little choice – rejecting it would have meant federal control over the state would continue.

Friday’s speeches focused more on the practical impact of the Thirteenth Amendment – the successes of North Carolina’s black residents in the decades following the end of slavery.

Judy Kay Jefferson, director of community and constituent affairs for Gov. Pat McCrory, listed several: The founding of multiple black colleges in the state and the rise of Thomas Stith – the former Durham City Councilman who serves as chief of staff for McCrory.

“This, all because of the freedom given by the Thirteenth Amendment,” Jefferson said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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