Dr. Carl Mack wants African Americans and the rest of the country to start treating December 6 like the special day it is.
The Fourth of July is celebrated on July 4 for a reason. Every year, Americans pause to remember the horrible events of Sept. 11. In addition, people receive best wishes on the anniversary of their births.
“People don’t arbitrarily pick a day outside of July 4,” Mack said. “People who keep history alive celebrate the real date.”
Mack, a Jackson native who now lives in Fort Washington, Maryland, wants to raise the profile of Dec. 6, which is the anniversary of the day slavery officially ended in the United States in 1865.
“Most people would agree that America’s national sin is the institution of slavery,” Mack said. “You would think people, especially Black people, would know the date when that institution ended.”
When a resolution in honor of Juneteenth was introduced in the Senate in the late 1990s, it referred to “June 19, 1865, the day on which slavery finally came to an end in the United States.”
June 19 is now an official federal holiday. It was inspired by the day Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger told African Americans in Texas about President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
“But that was not the day when America’s sin ended,” said Mack, an alumnus of Mississippi State University.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863. It was a widely anticipated event. On Dec. 31, 1862, African Americans gathered together and hoped Lincoln would follow through on his promise. That night has become known as Watch Night.
“They were watching for their freedom,” Mack said.
However, Lincoln’s proclamation didn’t actually free the slaves. As Mack said, the Confederate States of America had its own president and legislative body. It was considered an independent country.
“Did the United States have any jurisdiction over them as far as they saw it? No,” Mack said. “That’s like Trudeau in Canada telling the people of the United States to do something. I don’t care what you say. You have no jurisdiction over us.”
In addition, the Emancipation Proclamation excluded states that did not secede from the Union. Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland continued to be slave states. Hundreds of thousands of Black people were still enslaved.
According to the National Archives, Congress passed the 13th Amendment on Jan. 31, 1865. Georgia was the 27th and final state needed to ratify the 13th Amendment and make it an official part of the U.S. Constitution, the nation’s founding document.
Officially ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, Amendment XIII reads:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
“I want us to know the historical significance of this very important day,” Mack said. “Dec. 6, 1865, was the day when the American sin ended.”
He said that the anniversary should be known as Black Freedom and Economic Day.
“I am asking each of you to join the effort in helping educate us in recognizing the freedom of our ancestors from the bondage of slavery in America,” he said, “and to celebrate by spending our money with our black-owned businesses.”
Engineer to Historian
Mack worked as an engineer in Seattle and coordinated the county’s Minority Engineering Internship Program. He also served as president of the Seattle King County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was recognized as the top branch in the country during his tenure.
He went on to serve as executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers. Under his leadership, the organization’s membership nearly tripled to more than 35,500 members.
“I don’t do things halfway,” he said.
When Mack realized he didn’t know enough about African-American history, he decided to do something about it. He started gathering facts about important moments in Black history and put them together in a calendar.
The most recent edition of the calendar is called “Black Heritage Day IV.” Mack said he’s trying to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Carter Woodson.
In 1926, Woodson chose a week in February to be Negro History Week. He chose that week because it included President Lincoln’s birthday and the day used to celebrate Frederick Douglass’ birthday.
“No one knew for sure when Douglass was born,” Mack said. “As a child, his mother called him ‘My Little Valentine,’ so he said, ‘February 14.’”
The week was later renamed and expanded to become known as Black History Month.
“He’s my inspiration,” Mack said. “If I have to do it little by little, one person at a time, I can do that.”
Mack said he would’ve preferred for Dec. 6 to be named a national holiday. Still, he understands that people have feelings about Juneteenth. The day has been conflated with the anniversary of the day slavery was outlawed.
When he appeared on Roland Martin’s show, “Unfiltered,” Mack was billed as a black historian who opposes the Juneteenth national holiday.
In the beginning, viewers posted negative comments, but as he shared what he’d learned by researching African-American history, the audience began to see his point of view.
“I had the receipts,” Mack said. “I try not to be subjective. When I lecture, I print all of the documents, so people can see for themselves.”
Not everyone has embraced Mack’s mission. He submitted op-eds to The Seattle Times, The Washington Post and The Washington Times. All three declined to print his words.
He was disappointed but not discouraged.
“I want to educate my people,” he said, “and I want you to take the information and do something with it.”
Specifically, he wants Americans to celebrate Dec. 6 as Black Freedom and Economic Day, when people make a point of shopping exclusively at black-owned businesses.
“On that particular day, do it special. Make a special effort to patronize black businesses,” Mack said. “We ought to be thankful every day, but Thanksgiving is a special day to give thanks. It’s no different.”
by M. Scott Morris