Vermont was a leader in the abolition of slavery
By Bill Clark
May 25, 2020, was Memorial Day. A day set aside to pause and remember and pay tribute to all the brave Americans who have given their lives over the years so that this great American democracy can continue to live on. A time to stop and pray, shed a few tears, put flags by gravestones and sat thank you. This year, May 25 was extra special. This year is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. In Europe it ended in May and in Japan in August. So many lives lost to save a free world.
It was called a war to end all wars.
About midday, May 25, out in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a then unknown person by the name of George Floyd was walking across a street. Suddenly, four white police officers stopped him and began to interrogate him. He knew not why. He was handcuffed and shoved face down into the street. Seems like he has a problem. His skin was the wrong color. “Black.” Then one officer put his knee on his throat and strangled him for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He kept crying out “I can’t breathe” and then he stopped— he was dead!
All of this was caught on camera for the world to see. The dagger of white supremacy has just stabbed the heart of American democracy!
Let’s remember: 400 years ago, certain puritans decided to leave England and seek a new life across the Atlantic in this place that would become known as North America. They formed settlements all along the Eastern seaboard. They became colonies and eventually there were 13 of them. Soon after, British captured Black Africans against their will and brought them to America so the colonists could use them as slaves. Most of them were in the South. Colonists were still considered to be British subjects.
By the 1760s and 1770s, the colonies decided that they had had it and were going to break from England and form their own new nation here in America. It’s interesting to note, that the colonies in the area north of New York got nicknamed “New England.” Between New York and New Hampshire was this pile of rocks East of Lake Champlain that seemed to be a no man’s land. Certain families in southern New England, seeking even more freedom, moved up into it. New York and New Hampshire thought this place should belong to each of them. They squabbled, New York lost out. As the colonies came together in 1776 to write their “declaration of independence,” New York made sure this wilderness would never be a part of this new country as the colonies became the “United States.”
So, this wilderness east of Lake Champlain decided to go its own way and become an independent republic, the very first in North America. It was to become the Republic of Vermont. And so, on July 8, 1777, Vermont completed writing its constitution.
There was one statement in it, that really stood out. “No person could ever be held a slave against his own will.” This was the first time and place in the history of the world that slavery was prohibited.
By about 1780, the 13 colonies had won the Revolutionary War. So the next few years were spent writing the great American Constitution for these new United States. It went into effect in 1787. It became the greatest democracy in the history of the world. However, one flaw remained. It did not end slavery in America. And so the “black cloud” remained.
For the next 70 years, every time a “free state” was added, it had to be match by a “slave state.”
By the 1850s, there was a growing feeling in the Northern states that slavery should end. In 1856, the New Republican party was born and in 1860 they picked a young, anti-slavery candidate for president from out in Illinois, by the name of Abraham Lincoln. In 1860 he won, and in 1861 the Civil War erupted. It was America’s bloodiest war ever, with the South against the North. But by Jan. 3, 1863, Lincoln freed the slaves. The war went on two more years, ending with Lincoln being assassinated in 1865.
Now at last, Blacks were “free citizens,” but they had only won half the battle. They now were homeless with no jobs or income in this land of equal opportunity. And so, the “black cloud” still hung overhead over the next 100 years. There was segregation, discrimination, Klu Klux Klan, Jim Crow and more killings.
In the 1960s, one Dr. Martin Luther King preached a new sermon, that all human beings has equal rights to life, liberty and happiness, blacks and all others. He had a massive moment at the Lincoln Memorial. Soon after that, he, too, was assassinated.
The “black cloud” remained.
In 2008, we again saw a big historical change: America elected a Black president, Barack Obama. For the next eight years, Obama tried to make America better for all. However, many of his efforts were blocked by Republicans. And so, the “black cloud” for Blacks remained.
In 2016, our outdated electoral college handed Donald Trump the U.S. Presidency with only 24% of the vote.
Trump is a white supremacist, and he has little use for anyone else. Blacks are still second class citizens, abused by the police and blamed for much. The “black cloud” still remains.
Monday, May 25, 2020 — the sun seemed bright. Only one “black cloud.” About noon an unknown Black man was murdered by police. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning! The “black cloud” finally was gone. In just three days, the name George Floyd was on over 1 billion lips worldwide.
George Floyd, on Memorial Day, 2020, you lost your life.
However, your spirit still lives, a bright star in our sky and no “black cloud.” After 400 years of slavery, discrimination, segregation, persecution and murders. Your story has pierced every heart in the world. Finally, Blacks will be free and equal to all. We don’t know yet what the future will bring. But we do know that it will never again be like yesterday. Your name, “George Floyd” will now go into the history books as one of the greatest Americans of all time!
Finally. Now America can finally become the great example of democracy that it was intended to be for the last 200 plus years. The sun will still shine over the America.
Bill Clark, a resident of Wells, is the former president of the Vermont Farmers Market Association, Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association and North American Maple Syrup Council.