On February 1, 1865, Abraham Lincoln signed a joint resolution sending the newly proposed 13th Amendment to the states for ratification. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States.” The struggle for abolition, for which so many had fought for so long, was won when the American people ratified this amendment later that year.
The newly won freedom, however, was fleeting for many. Great Americans like Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks continued the fight to ensure that the great promise of America—freedom, liberty, and justice for all—would ring true regardless of skin color. And more than 150 years later, much work remains to be done.
As we begin Black History Month, let’s remember those human stories of suffering and struggle. Let’s remember the courage of those big and small who refused to kneel to a culture that did not want to be confronted with its own flaws. Let’s be grateful that our original Constitution was amended to guarantee equality to all citizens. And let’s celebrate the contributions of men and women, known and unknown, who have fought the noble fight for freedom.
Brian Hagedorn is a judge on the District II Court of Appeals and is a candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.