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This April, we celebrate the ConnectRx Wisconsin initiative that helps Black mothers and their babies. Now in its second year, this innovative care coordination system continues to provide medical care and address essential social needs that contribute to the overall well-being for Black pregnant women and birthing persons in Dane County. Coinciding with this anniversary is Black Maternal Health Week, a time dedicated to recognizing and addressing the health challenges of Black mothers.

A Vision for Health Equity

ConnectRx Wisconsin was launched by the Dane County Health Council and The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness to bridge the health disparity gap in our community, particularly in maternal and child health. The initiative was created to eliminate disparities in low-weight births between Black and white women in Dane County, where Wisconsin has one of the highest Black infant mortality rates in the United States. The Saving Our Babies Report, which includes community-based and system-level recommendations, led to the launch of the Saving Our Babies Initiative in 2019 and the Black Maternal and Child Health Alliance of Dane County in 2020 and paved the way for ConnectRx Wisconsin.

The Heart of ConnectRx Wisconsin

At the core of ConnectRx Wisconsin is a comprehensive screening process, identifying participants who could benefit most from the program. To qualify, patients must:

  1. Identify as African American/Black
  2. Have a positive pregnancy test
  3. Screen positive for one or more of the five Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) domains, including:

    • Housing
    • Financial stability strain
    • Food insecurity
    • Transportation
    • Stress

Once enrolled, individuals work with dedicated community health workers. These professionals guide participants with crucial resources like housing support, financial assistance and accessible health care services.

Making a Difference Together

Over the past two years, ConnectRx Wisconsin has not only improved health outcomes of Black mothers, but has also empowered them with the proper support to create brighter futures for their children.

Since April 2022, ConnectRx Wisconsin has referred 674 Black pregnant patients who were identified as high-risk for coordinated care. Out of these, 600 patients were given essential resources such as housing, food, transportation, and financial assistance. Among the 411 Black pregnant patients who chose to enroll in ConnectRx Wisconsin for additional birthing support, 234 healthy births have occurred, including 172 doula-supported births. This showcases the valuable role of doulas in achieving positive birth outcomes.

During the 20-month evaluation period of ConnectRx Wisconsin, 90% of babies born with doula support reached optimal gestational age, and an impressive 84% were born at a healthy birth weight. These statistics address a critical factor in reducing Black infant mortality rates. Furthermore, in year one, 68% of clients avoided medical interventions, while an unprecedented 94% initiated breastfeeding. These outcomes foster healthier beginnings for both mothers and babies alike.

The program’s success is a testament to the power of community, collaboration and technology. We are proud to be part of the list of program partners below, working together to help address these health disparities to make a positive difference.

A Week of Reflection and Action for Black Maternal Health

Black Maternal Health Week is April 11-17. This time reminds us of the work still required to ensure that all mothers, regardless of race, have access to the care and support they deserve. ConnectRx Wisconsin embodies the spirit of this week throughout the year by actively working to dismantle barriers. The goal of this initiative is to foster a world where every pregnancy is safe, respected and celebrated.

Looking Ahead with Hope

As we reflect on the accomplishments of the ConnectRx Wisconsin program and the importance of Black Maternal Health Week, we continue supporting and uplifting Black mothers in our community. Together, we can continue to make a meaningful difference in the lives of countless families. We also continue to work towards ensuring all have the care and support they need to live a healthy life.

Going to the hospital or receiving medical care can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re not feeling well or are in pain. However, it can be more of a daunting experience if you speak a different language or have a diverse cultural background from those at the health care facility.

At Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin (GHC-SCW), we understand how health care is complicated, but even more so when there are cultural and linguistic barriers. We believe health care should be fair and accessible to everyone, regardless of their background. Having the privilege to serve the unique and vibrant Madison area, we also recognize the need to have providers who reflect the diversity of our community.

We take pride in our commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion with many services, including language accessibility, community outreach and health services. Another key initiative is to promote diversity in health care professions through the Pre-Professional Medical Diversity Scholarship program. This award helps three scholars from diverse backgrounds pursue careers in health care, offering them a $5,000 scholarship and the opportunity to learn from experienced GHC-SCW providers at our clinics.


Meet the 2023 Pre-Professional Medical Diversity Scholarship Winners

We are thrilled to introduce you to our exceptional scholarship recipients this year. We hope you take the time to read their inspiring stories and what drives them to excellence in the health care field.


Meet Marina Melby

Marina Melby, a Native American woman, has been deeply influenced by her background and experiences in her decision to pursue a career in health care. Her childhood memories of visiting her great grandma’s house on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota exposed her to the loving, yet somber reality of her family’s health struggles, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. She witnessed their distrust of medical providers due to negative experiences, which often led to delayed medical care. Seeing first hand the impact of these health disparities with her loved ones motivated Marina to work towards ensuring indigenous people have positive relationships with their healthcare providers and receive timely and equitable care.

Her own positive experiences at her home Indian Health Services Clinic inspired her to become a Physician’s Assistant (PA). The PA who inspired her to go into the field mentored Marina and allowed her to shadow at the clinic. Marina believes that diverse healthcare providers are crucial in addressing health disparities because representation matters. Her desire to connect with Native people both on and off the reservation as a trusted healthcare provider reflects her dedication to reversing health disparities and improving the lives of her community, as illustrated in a touching encounter she had working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at UW Hospital:

“There was one particular patient that really made a positive impact on me as I pursue my goal to become a PA. He was an elderly gentleman on the general medicine floor… I learned he was a member of the Ho Chunk Nation. When I told him my family is enrolled in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe at White Earth Nation, he reached out for my hand. I took my gloves off and held his hand in mine… I stood there for several minutes holding his hand. We had a connection and neither one of us wanted to let go, so we held hands a little longer. This meant so much to him. And me. I took care of him like he was my family for the rest of my shift. I could tell from his smile that he was at ease.”


Meet Pa Nhia Vue

Pa Nhia Vue’s background has profoundly influenced her decision to pursue a career in health care. Growing up as the child of Hmong refugees, she witnessed her parents’ unfamiliarity with Western medicine and their struggles to navigate the health care system due to cultural and language barriers. Her mother’s hospitalization experience highlighted the importance of effective communication and cultural understanding in health care. During this time, the family relied on an interpreter who not only bridged the language gap, but provided a much-needed calming presence during a difficult time.

Pa Nhia’s determination to address health disparities, particularly among marginalized communities, led her to become a registered nurse and later pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Her commitment to becoming an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner is rooted in her desire to advocate for health equity, reduce health disparities and provide culturally sensitive care to diverse communities. Pa Nhia also strives to ensure there is support for professionals and students such as herself. During her time at UW Health, she helped create their first Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group. She wanted to establish a supportive environment for employees to foster camaraderie, enhance their professional growth and develop initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Some may consider this achievement a small drop in a big pond, but I believe it is a step in the right direction of advancing the search for a solution to providing diverse health care to communities made up of people who come from all walks of life.”


Meet Yolanda Davis

Yolanda Davis’ journey into health care began with admiration for nurses, as she witnessed their dedication and compassion in various roles throughout her career. These early experiences, combined with her desire to become a clinical instructor, ignited her passion for teaching and guiding future healthcare professionals. Yolanda recognizes the importance of primary care in the health care system, aiming to serve as a gatekeeper for patients and promote preventive care and knowledge awareness. The decision to pursue a DNP reflects Yolanda’s commitment to improving health care outcomes, fostering diversity and serving as a role model and mentor for future minority healthcare providers.

In her essay, Yolanda also acknowledges the importance of medical diversity in health care to build trust amongst patients:

“It is important to see people who look like us in healthcare. There are people of color who are very skeptical of the health care system. It is deep rooted and valid, and in some fashion continues to manifest and confirm their beliefs.”

A touching encounter reinforced Yolanda’s belief in the importance of representation amongst her peers:

“Several months ago, I was in the hospital cafeteria and a young employee came and stood next to me. Initially quiet, then all of a sudden he said, “You are the first black Nurse I’ve seen since I started working here”. We went on to have a good discussion about diversity in healthcare.”


Breaking Down Barriers in Health Care

At GHC-SCW, we are proud to support individuals from Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to pursue careers in health care. We recognize that diversity is not just a goal; it’s essential to providing quality health care to all. By offering scholarships and guidance to students like Yolanda, Marina and Pa Nhia, GHC-SCW aims to create a more diverse pool of role models and leaders in the health care field.

Salma Salama, a previous scholarship recipient, says, “I’m incredibly thankful for organizations like GHC that not only acknowledge the importance of diversity in healthcare but also take concrete steps to support students like me. I eagerly look forward to becoming a role model for minority children, students, and professionals alike.”

The Pre-Professional Medical Diversity Scholarship is a testament to GHC-SCW’s support in making health care more accessible and approachable in the community. By providing financial assistance and guidance to students from various backgrounds as they pursue careers in healthcare, GHC-SCW is helping them turn their dreams into reality. Moreover, we ensure that our healthcare system comprehensively understands and serves the unique needs of the communities it cares for. With trailblazers like Yolanda, Marina, and Pa Nhia leading the way, we can confidently look forward to a future where healthcare is more inclusive, accessible and equitable.



June is Pride Month, which is a time to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and highlight ongoing improvements in health equity.  

GHC-SCW is committed to serving every member of the Cooperative and providing a safe and welcoming environment for all. Equitable access to health care is core to our mission and vision. Gender-affirming surgeries and procedures require post-care management to enhance patient outcomes. This includes consultation and rehabilitation interventions from professionals in our Occupational (OT) and Physical Therapy (PT) departments.  

Musculoskeletal providers at GHC support gender-affirming care. Wendy Parsons, PT and Heather Crandell, OTR, CHT, CLT have answered a few questions below on gender-affirming clinical practices for post-operative patients. 


What is a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist? 

Wendy: Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy is a specialty practice within physical therapy.  A Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist has taken additional education to assist and treat issues related to the musculoskeletal system of the pelvic region, especially the pelvic floor muscles. Some of the things a Pelvic Floor PT can help people with include leakage of urine/bowels (incontinence), pelvic pain, difficulty with bowel movements, postpartum recovery, and gender-affirming bottom surgeries.  

What can a Pelvic Health PT do for an individual who is planning or had gender-affirming bottom surgery? 

Wendy: Having a pelvic floor PT session prior to gender-affirming bottom surgery can help identify pelvic floor muscle dysfunction and/or weakness and work to improve these. Muscle dysfunction includes muscle activation when they should be relaxing, poor muscle recruitment, and poor coordination of these muscles. Improving pelvic floor weakness can help decrease bladder leakage. Research has indicated that individuals who have addressed pelvic floor dysfunction prior to gender-affirming bottom surgeries maintain these improvements after. For individuals that have, or are planning to have, a vaginoplasty, pelvic floor PT can help them with pelvic floor muscle relaxation and the ability to do vaginal dilation during recovery.  

What is the role of Occupational Therapy for those who have undergone a top-surgery, such as chest flattening surgery or breast augmentation? 

Heather: Occupational therapists help maximize outcomes to return to desired functional activities after surgery and in some cases involving multiple surgeries. These surgeries may come with side effects which can have long term impacts on a patient’s quality of life from sensitization, range of motion, weakness and fatigue, scar tissue adhesions, and pain.  A variety of complications could be mitigated with early rehabilitation post-operatively. An Occupational Therapist will work on a varied of areas of practice based on clients’ needs including but not limited to: musculoskeletal, sexual health, psychosocial, body image, fatigue, and pain.   

Why is scar management so important after gender-affirming surgeries? 

Heather: A scar is an area of fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin following an injury or trauma, such as a cut or burn. Scarring is a natural part of the healing process after surgery but can sometimes require management to ensure that it does not cause additional problems. Scar management helps to normalize tissue pliability, mobility, and sensation.  

The location and amount of scar tissue will dictate the impact it has on functional activities. Below are some of the common difficulties scar tissue can cause: 

 What are other ways PT/OT can support gender affirming care? 

Wendy:  It has been noted in research that the transgender population has a higher rate of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Research also has shown that individuals with more adverse childhood experiences have a higher rate of reported pain issues. This can include neck pain, shoulder pain, or pelvic pain and muscle dysfunctions. Having gender-affirming surgery does not improve these issues specifically. 

An example of this could be an individual that had pelvic floor issues before having bottom gender affirming surgery will continue to have these issues after surgery. Another example is individuals that have increased pelvic muscle tension or difficulty relaxing pelvic floor muscles before having a vaginoplasty may have more difficulty using dilators after surgery. These things can be treated and improved with pelvic floor PT. 

In both PT and OT care, the focus is on improving patients’ outcomes and quality of life. This means it is important to treat the whole individual and develop a plan WITH the patient that is specific to THEIR needs. We believe that caring for the whole person requires a trauma-informed lens to ensure that each patient feels safe and supported during their care, especially given the sensitivity of the nature of this work. 

If you feel you would benefit from PT or OT care, please talk with your primary care provider or specialist about a referral for therapy services. 

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. History. Since 1976 every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

At GHC-SCW, we understand the importance of celebrating and embracing diverse communities. Whether we’re addressing health care inequities, strengthening the path to health care for the most vulnerable in our community, or through our work internally with bias training or our employee resource groups. As an organization, we take these initiatives seriously and make a point to focus on them not just in February but all year round.

Are you looking to celebrate Black History Month but unsure what to do? Here are some ideas to help get you started.

  1. Have Critical Conversations.
    Black History Month is the perfect time to begin having critical conversations around race in and out of the workplace. Whether you’re sitting down with your team, your peers or maybe even your family. It’s important to have tough conversations centered around unconscious bias and privilege. Often, the most challenging discussions bring the biggest breakthroughs.
  2. Read books from Black authors.
    From science fiction to memoirs to historical fiction, there’s a book from Black authors for everyone, perfect for reading throughout February and any time of the year. Visit the Innocence Project for a list of powerful books from talented Black authors.
  3. Support local Black-Owned Businesses.
    Madison is a hub for diversity! No matter where you are, east, west, or right down on the isthmus, there are many Black-owned businesses in your backyard. Still, trying to figure out where to start? Head to the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce for a list of fantastic local Black-owned businesses ranging from retail shops, coffee bars, and even restaurants.
  4. Attend Black History Month events.
    Many significant events are going on in and around south-central Wisconsin to help honor the role of Black Americans throughout history and today. Whether you head to Loud n’ Unchained Black QTDisabled Showcase + Mini Artists Market with Madison Public Library or you taking a day trip to Milwaukee for Milwaukee Films Black History Month showcase. Visit Madison365 or your local library for a more extensive list of events.

We’d love to hear how you celebrate Black History Month in February. Let us know in the comments below!

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic Americans to the U.S. 

At GHC-SCW, we are proud to celebrate this month and support a more inclusive health care system. In honor of this month, we sat down with Catalina Heshusius, GHC-SCW Language Services Supervisor, about what Hispanic Heritage Month means to her, how she celebrates it, and the importance of the work done by Language Services.

1. What does Language Services do for our Spanish-speaking population? 

We help to improve the quality of their health care and, thus, health outcomes by ensuring that their communication and language needs are met in interactions with their providers and GHC services, including navigating their benefits and accessing community resources. At GHC, we are pioneers in being not only translators and interpreters but also advocates who help bridge the cultural gaps for our Spanish-speaking members. 

In our Language Services department, we embrace cultural diversity. We are proud to have a team of members fluent in Hispanic cultures to help break down the day-to-day barriers to communication.

2. How does a patient access Language Services? 

For Spanish, they may call Language Services at 608-661-7215, and for Hmong or Laotian at 608-663-2940.

They may call reception or our call center for all other languages and will be connected with Pacific Interpreters. 

3. What is celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month? 

This month, from September 15 to October 15, we celebrate and honor 500 years of Hispanic and Latin American cultures and contributions to the United States. This month is a time to share the history, heritage, and accomplishments of the past and present Hispanic and Latin Americans.  

4. How many people in the U.S. speak Spanish as their first language? 

In the United States, more than 43 million people speak Spanish as their first language (about 13 percent of the population), which continues to grow. Additionally, the United States is home to nearly 12 million bilingual English- Spanish speakers. The U.S. Spanish-speaking population is comparable to Spain, Colombia, and Argentina.

5. What’s the difference between Hispanic and Latino/a? 

Hispanic refers to a person who is from, or a descendant of someone who is from, a Spanish-speaking country. 

Latino/a or Latinx refers to a person from, or a descendant of someone from, a country in Latin America. 

For example, someone from Brazil is considered Latino/a but not Hispanic, and conversely, someone from Spain is Hispanic but not Latino/a.

6. How can you help celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? 

We can all help celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by cherishing the generations of Hispanic Americans who have significantly shaped and enhanced our country and civilization. Language Services is thankful to be a part of their lives and to have them in ours. 

We are proud to support this community and appreciate their contributions every day. Here are some ways to contribute:

– GHC-SCW employees are encouraged to join our ERG Amig@s, open to everyone, including those who do not identify as Hispanic or Latin. We often get together to celebrate these cultures.

Practice your Spanish. The U.W. offers a conversation table on Tuesdays from 5 to 7 pm at Union South.

Visit the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce website to view the list of businesses to support, such as: 

· La Taguara: Venezuelan & Latin Cuisine (Madison)

· Mishqui Peruvian Cuisine (Monona) 

· Taqueria Gonzalez (Middleton) 

· Compadres (Middleton) 

· Los Gemelos (Madison) 

· Monona Bakery (Monona) 

– Participate every Thursday in the community market, Mercadito, at the Centro Hispano from 4 to 7 pm.

Read some excellent literature in Spanish, even the translated versions. García Márquez himself read the English translation of Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and pronounced it better than his Spanish original.

Some of my favorites….

· Cien Años de Soledad (Gabriel García Márquez)

· Rayuela (Julio Cortázar)

· Don Quijote (Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra)

· La Casa de los Espíritus (Isabel Allende)

· Aura (Carlos Fuentes)

· Laberinto de la Soledad (Octavio Paz)

· Arráncame la Vida (Ángeles Mastretta)

Watching Hispanic and Latinx movies, such as:

· Amores Perros 

· Coco

· Encanto

· Diarios de Motocicleta

· Biutiful

· Como Agua para Chocolate

· El Secreto de sus Ojos

7. What is your favorite way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? 

Language Services team’s answer:

During the week of April 11 to April 17, we want to deepen the conversation about Black Maternal Health for Black Maternal Health Week. At Group Health Cooperative of South-Central Wisconsin, we want to bring awareness to the racial disparities in Black maternal health care.

In 2020, Black women were disproportionately affected by the mortality rate of 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, making Black birthing persons three to five times more likely to die from giving birth than white women in the United States. Research also indicates that 22% of Black birthing persons are more likely to receive a lower quality of care than White birthing persons and are more likely to be subject to discrimination in health care.

And this problem is found right here in Dane County and Wisconsin. Our state is continuously ranked the worst in the country regarding health and birth disparities. According to a report released by the Foundation of Black Women’s Wellness, babies born to Black birthing persons in Dane County are two times more likely to be delivered at low birth weight. A low birth weight puts newborns at a higher risk for health challenges and an increased mortality rate.

It’s also important to acknowledge the past experiences of Black women and birthing persons throughout history and how their sacrifices and trauma have helped shape modern-day medicine. In the 1840s, James Marion Sims, a white doctor in Montgomery, Alabama, performed painful experiments without anesthesia on Lucy, an enslaved Black woman, while other doctors observed. Sims would soon be dubbed the “Father of Gynecology.” Still, without his experiments on enslaved Black women and teens, Sims would’ve never been able to develop a technique to help with the chronic complications of childbirth.

As Black Maternal Health Week continues and we work together to increase health equity for Black women and birthing persons, let us keep in mind the trauma and experiences that have led us to today.

By Dany Seiler, GHC-SCW Applications Analyst

Today marks the 13th annual International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV).

The day celebrates the resilience and success of transgender and gender-nonconforming people and raises awareness of transgender rights. GHC-SCW is proud to honor this day while raising awareness of transgender and gender-affirming health care inequities.

Activist Rachel Crandall founded TDoV in 2009. Crandall became inspired by the fact that there was no holiday in existence dedicated to honoring the achievements and contributions of transgender people. At the time, the only major transgender-centered commemoration was the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which mourns the victims of hate crimes and violence.

At GHC-SCW, we have established an LGBTQ Health Committee to help improve the equity and inclusivity of care experienced by patients who identify as LGBTQIA+. We hope to continue working together with these patients and members to ensure they receive the best safe and welcoming care. To learn more about our GHC Primary Care Providers interested in LGBTQIA+ care, head to

Our affirmation also extends to those who have not yet shared their gender identity at GHC-SCW.

For more information on organizations that support transgender and non-binary individuals, check out:

Point of Pride



For transgender and non-binary folks interested in celebrating the day and connecting with other trans folks within the community, join fellow community members for Celebrate Trans Joy in Community on April 23rd. More information is below.

Article reference:

With February rolling around, the month brings cold weather, snow, and the hoping for Spring. But February also brings the celebration of Black History Month. GHC-SCW is proud to celebrate Black History Month, acknowledging and appreciating the impact Black people have had on healthcare.

First celebrated in 1926, what was initially Black History Week was expanded into Black History Month in 1976. Black History Month is an annual celebration to lift the accomplishments of Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. History.

Throughout American history, our society has greatly benefited from the medical advances and inventions of Black women and men. Below is a list of four Black medical professionals who have created boundless opportunities for themselves and whose advancements continue to save lives every single day.

Daniel Hale Williams, M.D. (1856-1931)
Daniel Hale Williams founded the first Black-owned hospital in America and performed the world’s first successful heart surgery in 1973.

Jane Cooke Wright, M.D. (1919-2013)
Wright, along with her father, helped research chemotherapy drugs that led to remissions in patients with leukemia and lymphoma. She created an innovative technique to test the effect of drugs on cancer cells by using patient tissue rather than lab mice.

Charles Drew, M.D. (1904-1950)
Drew developed groundbreaking ways to store blood plasma in blood banks. His work made the way for the modern blood transfusion.

Barbara Nichols, PHD
In 1970, Nichols was elected president of the Wisconsin Nursing Association (WNA), making her the first Black American to serve in the position in the organization’s 100-year history. And then in 1979, she was elected the president of the American Nursing Association (ANA), making her the first Black American to hold the national leadership position as well.

Black Americans’ impact on overall healthcare and innovation is something to be emphasized during a month to uplift their accomplishments. But it’s important to also acknowledge the sacrifices and gruesome medical mistreatment of Black Americans. From the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study that withheld treatment from hundreds of Black men for decades to let doctors track the course of the disease, the gruesome experiments on enslaved people, as well as forced sterilizations of Black women, much of our medical advancements are because of the trauma and horror that Black Americans were put through in the name of medicine.

As we go through February, be sure to recognize and acknowledge Black Americans’ sacrifices and achievements.

September 22, 1862, in the soldiers’ cabin on the battlefield of Antietam, a then young Abraham Lincoln summoned his generals. The Union Army was fresh from the victory over the Rebel Army led by General Lee. It was the first victory by the Union Army with southern troops advancing as far north as they would for the remainder of the war. Antietam Creek, outside Sharpsburg Maryland, became the site of the bloodiest single-day battle in Civil War history. It also created an alarm to many of the Union leaders that the south was a formidable force and keeping the Union together was for sure at stake.

If the north was going to win the war, new strategies would have to be devised and implemented. There was an option that had been suggested before but, as efforts continued throughout the war to bring the south back into the Union, the North was reluctant to impose policies that would enrage the south more. This discussion was around slavery and how slave labor was fueling the southern army’s success.

The north argued that the south was able to utilize their slave labor to support their war efforts. Slaves were a source of free labor to provide services such as cooking, sewing, building shelter and many other functions that did not have to be filled by a white man. This allows more of their troops to focus on combative duty. Thus, even though by this time the north had more troops, effective fighting forces were equal.

Since the start of the war, the northern army had been receiving fugitive slaves that found their way to Union lines after escaping their enslavers. The army was reluctant to return these slaves and often put them to work doing similar jobs as their enslaved counterparts in the southern army. This was somewhat of a difficult situation for the northern government to navigate at the time. The north had refused to acknowledge the succession of the south. This meant that the northern government was trying to uphold laws and commitments with the south. One of those legislative acts was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and the 1850 revisionary act that tried to keep the union intact by agreeing to return all fugitive slaves to their southern slave owners.

When the Union army decided to retain and not return slaves during the war, they were breaking federal law. This was angering southern slave owners and continued to drive the south towards succession. Earlier efforts to keep the slaves officially were met with skepticism. However, after the bloodiest day of the war and having seen the southern army reach Maryland, Lincoln hoped that his generals would support a proclamation to free all slaves within states and parts of states that were rebelling against the Union. This would legally allow the Union army to keep the slaves as freedmen able to work for a wage and support Union troops.

This tactic was also aimed at further destabilizing the southern economy. Word quickly spread in the southern states that if you were able to escape your slave owner and avoid capture from slave hunters, you could reach the Union line and become a freedman. This led to an increase in runaway slaves that would find their way to the Union army, numbers that are estimated to have reached over 125k former slaves.

However, this did not have any bearing on those in border states that had legal slavery. It did not end slavery in any of the northern states or territories either. This decree did not automatically make freedman citizens either, it merely gave them freedom from their capturers. Without any voting or equal rights, many former slaves often escaped to an environment only slightly less oppressive than the one they left.

Still, with all the shortcomings of the actual proclamation, the act did prove very impactful in helping the north win the Civil War. This act laid the groundwork and started a discussion that eventually led to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

As we engage in work to create a still more perfect union, it is good to recognize these important historical events. It helps us realize that, although all our efforts may not be perfect in achieving our goals and dreams, the continual work towards that perfect union is what makes us one of the greatest nations on earth.

If you would like to learn more about the history and background of the Emancipation Proclamation, please feel free to check out the informational video below.

The Civil War Part 2: Crash Course US History #21 – YouTube

Let’s continue the work started by abolitionists like Fredrick Douglass and leaders like Abraham Lincoln. Let’s be brave, let’s be bold, and let’s be Better Together.