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The Emancipation Proclamation and Convict Leasing in 1874: A Dark Chapter in American History

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Preventing Early Trauma to Improve Adult Health

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, is one of the most iconic documents in American history. It declared all slaves in Confederate-held territory to be "forever free," marking a significant turning point in the Civil War and the fight against slavery. However, the Proclamation did not immediately end slavery, and the period following the Civil War brought about new challenges for freed African Americans, including the systematic and exploitative practice of convict leasing. This article explores the Emancipation Proclamation and the grim realities of convict leasing in 1874, highlighting the complex path to freedom for African Americans.

The Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was a groundbreaking executive order issued by President Lincoln during the Civil War. Its primary purpose was to undermine the Confederacy by weakening its labor force, as it declared that all slaves in Confederate territory were to be set free. This proclamation fundamentally altered the character of the Civil War, shifting it from a battle primarily focused on preserving the Union to one that also aimed at ending slavery.

However, it's important to note that the Emancipation Proclamation was a war measure that had limitations. It applied only to Confederate-held territory, meaning that it did not free slaves in the border states or areas under Union control. Furthermore, it did not grant immediate freedom to enslaved individuals but paved the way for their liberation. As Union forces advanced into the South, they enforced the Proclamation and enslaved individuals began escaping to Union lines in search of freedom.

Challenges Faced by Freed African Americans

While the Emancipation Proclamation marked a significant step toward ending slavery, it did not guarantee immediate social and economic equality for newly liberated African Americans. The period following the Civil War, known as Reconstruction, brought about a host of challenges, including economic hardship, violence, and a lack of political rights.

Convict Leasing: A Systematic Approach to Profit

Convict leasing was one of the most pernicious and exploitative practices that emerged during the Reconstruction era, with its roots extending well into 1874. It was a system in which state governments leased out the labor of convicted criminals, often disproportionately targeting African-American individuals, to private companies and individuals. Convict leasing served as a means for states to generate revenue and, at the same time, continue the forced labor of African Americans.

Key Aspects of Convict Leasing in 1874:

  1. Forced Labor: Convict leasing effectively reinstated a form of forced labor that was reminiscent of slavery. Those who had been incarcerated were subjected to harsh and dangerous working conditions, often in mines, plantations, or railroad construction projects.

  2. Racial Disparities: The convict leasing system disproportionately affected African Americans, as they were more likely to be arrested, convicted, and leased out to work. This racial bias in the criminal justice system persisted well into the 20th century.

  3. Inhumane Conditions: The conditions under which individuals worked were deplorable. They faced physical abuse, inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, and a lack of medical care, leading to a high mortality rate among those subjected to convict leasing.

  4. Profit for Private Companies: Private enterprises benefited immensely from convict leasing. They paid state governments for the labor of convicts but bore none of the costs associated with their welfare, effectively turning prisoners into a lucrative source of cheap labor.

  5. Lack of Legal Protections: Convicts leased to private entities had few legal protections or avenues for redress. Their exploitation went largely unchecked, as they were often perceived as disposable individuals.

The End of Convict Leasing

Convict leasing became a focus of public outrage and activism in the late 19th century. Reform movements and investigative journalism exposed the inhumane conditions under which convicts labored, leading to greater scrutiny of the system. By the early 20th century, several states had abolished the practice, though it continued in some form in other places for decades.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a pivotal moment in American history, representing the first step in ending slavery and beginning the process of civil rights for African Americans. However, the period following the Civil War brought about its own set of challenges, including the oppressive practice of convict leasing. In 1874, as the practice continued, African Americans faced systemic discrimination and exploitation.

Understanding the Emancipation Proclamation and the subsequent challenges faced by African Americans during Reconstruction is vital for comprehending the complexities of American history. It highlights the long and painful struggle for civil rights and racial justice in the United States, a struggle that continues to shape the nation's story and ongoing efforts toward equality and justice.

I share this history to shed light on the importance of seeking help when experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The reality is that self-care is not a priority for people of color, but it should be. If you are a person of color who has experienced repeated trauma-you may struggle with intense feelings of anger, sadness, or shame, and you need to begin to heal that grief so you can start living a life of joy.

Further Learning Watch This


The Importance of Addressing Mental Health in People of Color: Interconnected Trauma and Intergenerational Healing

Mental health is a fundamental aspect of overall well-being, and it holds particular significance for people of color who have experienced historical trauma and intergenerational hardship. The effects of trauma, addiction, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have had a profound and lasting impact on many communities of color. Understanding the relationship between these factors and the importance of addressing mental health within these communities is essential for breaking the cycle of pain and suffering that has been passed down through generations.

Historical Trauma and ACEs

Historical trauma refers to the collective emotional and psychological wounds experienced by a specific group of people due to traumatic events or circumstances. Communities of color have endured centuries of oppression, racism, colonization, and systemic discrimination, which have left deep emotional scars. The trauma experienced by previous generations can be passed down to their descendants, affecting their mental and emotional well-being.

Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are traumatic events or circumstances that occur during childhood, such as abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, or violence. Research has shown a direct link between ACEs and a higher risk of mental health issues, addiction, and physical health problems later in life. For people of color, ACEs can be linked not only to individual childhood experiences but also to the historical trauma experienced by their communities.

Interconnected Trauma and Intergenerational Patterns

The connection between historical trauma, ACEs, and intergenerational patterns of suffering is profound. Families that have experienced historical trauma often carry the emotional pain and emptiness from past generations. This pain may manifest in various ways, including emotional neglect, substance abuse, and unhealthy coping mechanisms that can perpetuate the cycle of trauma.

For example, if a family's history includes experiences of forced labor, discrimination, and systemic oppression, the emotional impact of these experiences may be transmitted through generations. This can lead to behavioral patterns, such as emotional detachment, substance abuse, or difficulty in forming healthy relationships, which are often coping mechanisms to deal with unresolved pain. Using substances to soothe is a coping strategy to suppress deep-rooted trauma that folks don't want to talk about or remember.

The Importance of Mental Health Support

Recognizing the interconnectedness of historical trauma, ACEs, and intergenerational patterns of suffering highlights the critical need for mental health support and healing within communities of color. Several important steps can be taken to address these challenges:

  1. Trauma-Informed Care: Healthcare providers and mental health professionals can adopt a trauma-informed approach when working with individuals from communities with a history of trauma. This involves recognizing the impact of trauma on mental health, avoiding re-traumatization, and providing a safe space for individuals to share their experiences.

  2. Community Resilience and Healing: Communities can engage in collective healing processes, acknowledging their shared history and its impact on mental health. This may involve support groups, culturally sensitive therapy, and community programs focused on resilience and healing.

  3. Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about historical trauma, ACEs, and their effects is crucial for reducing the stigma surrounding mental health in communities of color. It encourages individuals to seek help and support when needed.

  4. Policy Changes: Advocacy for policy changes and systemic reforms to address the root causes of historical trauma and systemic discrimination is essential. These changes can help prevent the perpetuation of trauma through generations.


Mental health is a vital component of well-being for people of color, given the historical trauma and intergenerational patterns of suffering that many have experienced. Recognizing the interconnectedness of historical trauma, ACEs, and ongoing emotional pain within these communities is crucial. Addressing these issues requires a holistic approach, including trauma-informed care, community resilience, education, and policy changes. By acknowledging the impact of historical trauma on mental health, we can work toward healing, breaking the cycle of suffering, and promoting emotional well-being and resilience within communities of color.


Need Help Developing A Plan For Self-Care

Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:

Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC

Art Wellness Studio and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balance lifestyle.

Warm Regards

Dr. Nikki LeToya White

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