The National Constitution Center offers many ways to celebrate Juneteenth, the annual commemoration of the end of slavery in America in 1865. On June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and nearly five months after the 13th Amendment was passed (six months before it would be ratified), enslaved people in Texas learned that they were free and that slavery in America had officially been abolished.
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865.
Section 1: 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.
Section 2: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Now, Juneteenth is recognized nationwide. The Center’s Juneteenth resources celebrate the strength, power, and conviction of freedom fighters from Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass to modern discussions by Eric Foner and Tomiko Brown Nagin, who explore the fight for equal rights today.
Harriet Jacobs and the post-Civil War South
Join actress Natajia Sconiers as she shares a letter by Harriet Jacobs, one of the most influential writers of America’s Reconstruction era. In the letter, Jacobs describes her experiences in the South following the 13th Amendment. An enslaved woman living in Edenton, North Carolina, she hid in an attic crawl space for seven years in order to avoid assault by her slaveholder, before fleeing to freedom in 1842.
Jacobs’ 1861 autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was the first narrative written by a woman freedom seeker, and talked openly about the abuse that enslaved women experienced. She and her daughter, Louisa Mathilda Jacobs, returned to the South after the Civil War as volunteers for the Freedmen’s Aid Society. In this letter, Jacobs, who has returned to Edenton in the course of her volunteer work, writes to fellow Freedmen’s Aid Society volunteer, Ednah Dow Cheney.
The letter is featured in FOURTEEN, the Center’s newest theatrical production, which sheds light on the Reconstruction era and the ratification of the 14th Amendment through dramatic interpretation of original texts.
Watch more videos clips from FOURTEEN:
The Emancipation Proclamation
In this two-part clip from FOURTEEN: A Theatrical Performance, a performer embodying President Abraham Lincoln reads an excerpt of the Emancipation Proclamation. Another performer reads an 1864 letter written by Annie Davis, an enslaved woman who, upon hearing of the proclamation, seeks President Lincoln’s guidance on if she can freely travel to visit her family.
The Black Codes
In this clip from FOURTEEN: A Theatrical Performance, performers share sections of the Black Codes from the Reconstruction era, and the response of African Americans to the rise of these laws. African Americans used petitions, like the one in the clip from the South Carolina Colored Convention.
The 39th Congress Debates
In this clip from FOURTEEN: A Theatrical Performance, performers use the words of the 39th Congress as they debate the proposed 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
More Video Lessons
- 13th Amendment Overview Lesson
- 14th Amendment Overview Lesson
- Eric Foner, professor of history at Columbia University, discusses the creation and contents of the 14th Amendment
- Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, explores three major clauses of the 14 Amendment and the ways in which the Supreme Court has interpreted those clauses
- Tomiko Brown Nagin, professor at Harvard Law School, examines the continuing relevance of the 14th Amendment
Explore the Constitution
Take a deeper dive into the Reconstruction Amendments on our Interactive Constitution, and our new Drafting Table, which allows you to explore key historical documents that inspired the framers of each amendment during the drafting process.
- The 13th Amendment on our Interactive Constitution
- The 13th Amendment on the Drafting Table
- The 14th Amendment on our Interactive Constitution
- The 14th Amendment on the Drafting Table
- The 15th Amendment on our Interactive Constitution
- The 15th Amendment on the Drafting Table
Tour Our Exhibits
Explore the Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality exhibit to learn how the constitutional clashes over slavery led to the Civil War. The exhibit continues through the postwar period known as Reconstruction and highlights the three new amendments added to the Constitution—the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments—as the nation worked to fulfill its promise of freedom and equality. Join National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen and Exhibition Developer Elena Popchock on a video tour to learn about this critical period in American history.
Plus! Download our 14th Amendment Civic Calendar, featuring great artwork with images and explainers on all provisions of the amendment.