What few of us realized, however, was that somewhere down near the bottom of the original handwritten document, Abraham Lincoln had stamped, "Best If Used Before Jan. 1, 2003."
Yep, 140 years after first proclaiming slavery illegal, the Emancipation Proclamation is set to expire. And as a result, slavery, once again, is going to be instituted as one of the basic cornerstones of the American economy.
It's not a joke. Well, at least to some people it's not a joke. Some people take the rumor?and the threat?very seriously, and they're trying to spread the word before it's too late.
At a time when tensions, anxieties and paranoia are already running much too high?treacherous computer bugs, various groups threatening armed assaults on Times Square at the stroke of midnight on New Years' Eve, the battle of Armageddon and what-have-you?it seems like overkill to start planning three years in advance for something like this. I mean, don't we already have enough to worry about right now? It seems not.
Conspiracy theories are as prevalent in the African-American community as they are in the white community?though they tend to be of a different nature (to a certain degree). Instead of worrying about who really shot the president or what's really going on at Area 51, most African-American conspiracies seem to focus on the white man's attempts to keep them down?or, in more extreme cases, wipe them out entirely. Brown & Williamson put asbestos into the filters of Kool cigarettes for a reason. AIDS was created in a government lab and intentionally introduced into the black community. And now the Emancipation Proclamation is going to be rescinded.
It must be a fairly new conspiracy, though, because there's nary a peep about it on any of the well-established conspiracy websites I pored through, and no one was talking about it in the newsgroups. None of the mainstream news outlets has mentioned anything about it. Only about one in 10 people I mentioned it to had heard the story at all?and those who did hear it couldn't remember any specifics?or even where they'd heard it in the first place. But I'm told the Drudge Report cited it in passing a few weeks ago, and a caller to HOT 97's popular "Street Soldiers" community talk show brought it up during a recent program about taxicab discrimination. Host Lisa Evers seemed to know what the caller was talking about, going so far as to suggest that she might devote an entire show to the issue in the near future.
I contacted Ms. Evers to find out where she'd heard such a thing, and she told me that she first learned of it from WWRL talk show host Tony Brown, who's well known for his black economic empowerment programs and his computer training seminars for black entrepreneurs?as well as for his role in spreading some mighty shrill Y2K hysteria.
Unfortunately, Mr. Brown never returned any of my calls.
Another well-known radio personality, Gary Byrd (who would certainly know about such things), had apparently vanished from the face of the Earth. Up at Harlem's Liberation Bookstore, nobody had heard of this Emancipation Proclamation business. Same story at Revolution Books. And nobody I talked to, black or white, whether they'd heard of it or not, had much of anything interesting to say on the matter. Most simply dismissed it out of hand as a crackpot idea.
Of course, who knows? We are dealing with a conspiracy here. Maybe the people I asked knew exactly what I was talking about, more than they cared to let on, but didn't want to discuss it with me, figuring I was in tight with The Man. I've run into it before.
My question is, where does such a story come from? How does it get started? Black militants crossing their fingers for a race war? White militants doing the same thing? Or is it something a little less sinister than that?
One possibility: During an address before the NAACP in July of last year, Vice President Al Gore commented that, when it came time for the 2000 census, Republicans "don't even want to count [blacks]." Various commentators have taken that remark and run with it in several different directions. Or maybe it's just a very peculiar response to the recent lawsuits leveled at Germany and Japan regarding the slave labor they employed during WWII. Maybe Tony Brown started it, in an attempt to scare people into starting their own businesses?or maybe it sprang up in response to the Mayor's new homeless policy.
But those are just wild, groundless guesses on my part.
Of course the whole idea makes no sense, if you think about it the tiniest bit. Most conspiracy theories don't. The Emancipation Proclamation didn't do anything?so repealing it, pissing on it, claiming it never existed wouldn't change a thing. Despite what most of us have been led to believe about that little executive decree, slavery wasn't actually abolished until two years later, at the end of the war, with the passage of the 13th Amendment. Besides, if you go back and read the Emancipation Proclamation, you'll see that Lincoln states quite clearly, "...I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward, shall be, free." There's no question, no room for interpretation, no expiration date.
Once they start talking about repealing the 13th Amendment, though, well, maybe that'll be time to start worrying.