Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Do You Know Why You Should Celebrate February 1st As National Freedom Day?

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Passionate Advocate From Diverse American Family Helps Revive National Freedom Day Within Divisive US Political Climate
The Beautiful Garner/Chappelear/Lawson/Deane/Benitez Family Has A Rich Freedom Legacy

By Kamau Austin

A national advocate for equality and inclusion Venita Benitez, an Afro-Latino woman, is working passionately to help revive a day of liberation, healing, and American harmony: National Freedom Day.  National Freedom Day, was proclaimed to be celebrated annually February, 1, eventually jumpstarting Black History Month.

Moreover, National Freedom Day, also commemorates President Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and subsequent passing in Congress of the 13th Amendment.  The National Freedom Day proclamation by Harry S. Truman states the following "National Freedom Day is a United States observance on February 1 honoring the signing by President Abraham Lincoln of a joint House and Senate resolution that later was ratified as the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

President Lincoln signed the Amendment abolishing slavery on February 1, 1865, although it was not ratified by the states until later."  February 1st, was later to become Black History Day, then eventually, driven by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson - Black History Month.

Venita Benitez, an equality advocate and diversity professional with Afro-Latino roots, that also ironically derives from the British Monarchy, is looking to continue to help bring awareness to National Freedom Day.  Benitez is looking to bring the little known, but official national holiday proclamation of National Freedom Day, by President Harry S. Truman, into the mainstream.

This will be a challenging goal given the divisive present political climate in the US, and actually the world.  Our country beyond just the present ongoing culture wars confrontations, we also have movements that are threatening democracy itself in our country.

But Venita is passionately up for the challenge following the movement in the footsteps of the founder of National Freedom Day, former slave, educator, college President, entrepreneur, banker, and army veteran Major Richard R. Wright Sr. (no known relation to author/writer Richard Wright).   Major Wright was extremely accomplished.

According to the Pennsylvania: Life and Times of Major Richard Robert Wright Sr. and the National Freedom Day Association, "Richard Robert Wright Sr. (May 16, 1855 – July 2, 1947) was an American military officer, educator and college president, politician, civil rights advocate and banking entrepreneur. Among his many accomplishments, he founded a high school, a college, and a bank. He also founded the National Freedom Day Association in 1941.

Ms. Benitez shared "One year after Wright's death in 1947, U.S. Congress passed by a joint resolution approved on June 30, 1948 a bill to recognize National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on January 25, 1949, by President Harry Truman." 

The Original Founder Of National Freedom Day Movement, Major Richard Robert Wright Sr. 

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Article On National Freedom Day
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President Harry S. Truman Signing The Proclamation Establishing National Freedom Day

Although not as well known as Dr. Martin Luther King's Holiday, or the more recently recognized federal holiday Juneteenth, National Freedom Day's roots run deep in the American historical striving for freedom and independence for Blacks and all US citizens.  Ms. Benitez points to the fact "that all Americans can find common ground in celebrating National Freedom Day."

She further reveals "both Republicans and Democrats have helped to make National Freedom Day a legitimate holiday to celebrate."  Then Venita adds "Congress authorized the President to proclaim the first day of February of each year National Freedom Day, in commemoration of the signing of the resolution of February 1, 1865." 

And this is a truthful and insightful social posture for her to take because a Republican President Abraham Lincoln and Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as an outgrowth of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Although initially the 13th Amendment passed in the Senate, it stalled in the House of Representatives.

Eventually the Amendment passed in both houses of Congress "The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. The amendment was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the required 27 of the then 36 states on December 6, 1865, and proclaimed on December 18. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War." Source US Senate Website

Later a Democratic President Harry S. Truman signed a proclamation designating February 1, 1949, and each succeeding February 1, as National Freedom Day, making it a Holiday.  The Holiday is the outgrowth of a Black Republican Major Richard R. Wright's advocacy work to celebrate freedom.  Wright promoted the idea that no one can be free until all Americans are free, upon hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) speak of the Four Freedoms.  Richard R. Wright Sr. (1855-1947) wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune that "Americans would not be free until everyone, including African Americans, shared fully in those freedoms."  Source Philadelphia Encyclopedia

So National Freedom Day shows us that people can work across political and racial lines to advance freedom for all Americans.  However, there is much to do in Venita Benitez's mind to realize the goals that National Freedom Day represents.

Benitez takes exception to the word "except" in the 13th Amendment.  The except clause in the 13th Amendment has allowed what some have termed "slavery by another name."

The except statement in the 13th Amendment opened the doors for southerners and later the prison industrial complex to use the criminal justice and penal system to morph slavery by incarcerating Blacks.  The except clause goes like this "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." Source the 13th Amendment

According to an article that appears in The Library Of Congress Entitled The Convict Leasing System: Slavery in its Worst Aspects "While many believe that the 13th Amendment ended slavery, there was an exemption that was used to create a prison convict leasing system of involuntary servitude to fill the labor supply shortage in the southern states after the Civil War.

Black Codes regulated the lives of African Americans and justice-involved individuals were often convicted of petty crimes, like walking on the grass, vagrancy, and stealing food.  Arrests were often made by professional crime hunters who were paid for each “criminal” arrested, and apprehensions often escalated during times of increased labor needs.

Even those who were declared innocent in the courts were often placed in this system when they could not pay their court fees. Companies and individuals paid leasing fees to state, county, and local governments in exchange for the labor of prisoners in farms, mines, lumber yards, brick yards, manufacturing facilities, factories, railroads, and road construction. The convict leasing fees generated substantial amounts of revenue for southern state, county, and local budgets, and lasted through World War II."
Ms. Benitez says "I chuckled in friendly conversation with a local district attorney about the clause “except” is when he said, “in my forty years of law I have never had anyone point this out and nobody cares but you, Venita, good luck with amending an amendment." She said "it, must be done, for freedom sake."

Ms. Benitez is now looking to go beyond just popularizing National Freedom Day, but she is inspired to push forward with many others to get the 13th Amendment except clause, allowing slavery in the prison industrial complex - rescinded.  Since there are such stereotypical tropes in our society about Blacks tending to be unlawful and criminal this won't be an easy task.  Furthermore, there is a lot of money being generated by privately owned prisons to use these institutions as sources of free or very low cost labor.

Nevertheless, Venita Benitez, has met other high profile challenges head-on taking President Barack Obama to task on social oversights (Human Trafficking Awareness Month), UNESCO (International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Slave Trade and its Abolition), United Nations (International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade), and even challenging the British Royal Family on its racist history (John Hawkins, England’s Slave Trader’s Crest of Achievement, with a bound African slave).  She is poised to drive the point of National Freedom Day to continue to join those to help liberate Blacks and other disadvantaged people in our criminal justice system.  For Benitez true freedom and justice equates to wellness for our country.

A true visionary for freedom, for over 15 years, Ms. Benitez secured the domains for National Freedom Day.  She hopes to commemorate the upcoming 75th anniversary of National Freedom Day, the Presidential Proclamation on February 1, 2024.  Ultimately, Venita Benitez, is working to help promote awareness of the holiday for national healing in succeeding years to come.

You can reach out to her at: venita@nationalfreedomday.com

Writer's Bio:  Writer Kamau Austin, is the award winning Publisher of the Black News Scoop and Scoop Publications, a division of AMS Digital Media.  He is a long time activist, entrepreneur, and author.

Austin has been featured in Black Enterprise, Fortune Magazine Small Business, CNN, radio, cable, and countless newspapers and blog sites.

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