We have just observed Columbus Day which is as we all know the day that Columbus discovered Ohio.” In that vein, when I was talking with a group of very bright students at my alma mater – the University of Georgia – we fell into a discussion of history. One of the students said that he did not know that Columbus, Ohio had a harbor. I said, then why is the airport called “Port Columbus? I then asked “who discovered America?” Any educated person knows its not Columbus however most answers were some European. Then I asked them to define “discover”. Most then realized that you cannot discover something that has already been discovered, yet “the Indians” somehow did not get traction in our history books. I then asked “who freed the slaves?” All answered “Abraham Lincoln”. Really? How did he do that? “The Emancipation Proclamation.” When I told them that the Emancipation Proclamation was only valid in wartime and only “freed” the slaves in areas not at war with the union, then obviously Lincoln was not the correct answer. I then said “How about that homeboy East Tennessean Andrew Johnson who was president when the 13th amendment was ratified in December 1865?” Mostly they agreed. Then I told them that the president has no overt role in the ratification process. It is the congress and their two-thirds vote and the vote of three fourth of the states and not the president who ratify constitutional amendments. So who freed the slaves? The answer is the United States of America – all the states including those in the former confederacy – voted for the amendment. I did not know which was most egregious, bright students not knowing about the Emancipation Proclamation or their not knowing the Constitution of the United States.
Harold A. Black is professor emeritus in the Department of Finance, University of Tennessee, Knoxville having retired after 24 years of service. He has served on the faculties of American University, Howard University, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the University of Florida. His government service includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and as a Board Member of the National Credit Union Administration. He also has served on the boards of directors Home Savings of America and its parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, California prior to its merger with Washington Mutual Savings Bank, on the board of New Century Financial Corporation, Irvine, California, then the nation’s largest real estate investment trust and as director and later chairman of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He writes an occasional article for the Knoxville News-Sentinel at http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/dr-harold-black/. His web page is haroldablackphd.com