December 18 is an important day in black history. It was on this day in 1865 that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the amendment that abolished slavery — was declared in effect by the then secretary of state, William H. Seward.

The amendment reads:

“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.”

The amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865.

Also on this day in history:

In 1787, New Jersey became the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

In 1969, Britain’s House of Lords joined the House of Commons in making permanent a 1965 ban on the death penalty for murder.

In 1971, the Rev. Jesse Jackson announced in Chicago the founding of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).

Ten years ago: A federal judge in Philadelphia threw out Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing for the former Black Panther alternately portrayed as a vicious cop-killer and a victim of a racist frame-up. (This month, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams decided to stop pursuing execution for Abu-Jamal in the 1981 shooting death of police officer Daniel Faulkner.)

One year ago: The U.S. Senate approved repeal of the military’s 17-year “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay troops in a 65-31 vote. (President Barack Obama later signed it into law.) Skier Lindsey Vonn was named the 2010 Female Athlete of the Year as chosen by members of The Associated Press.

Notable birthdays:

Blues musician Lonnie Brooks is 78. Rock singer-musician Keith Richards is 68. Movie producer-director Steven Spielberg is 65. Movie reviewer Leonard Maltin is 61. Actor Brad Pitt is 48. Professional wrestler-turned-actor “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is 47. Rapper DMX is 41. DJ Lethal (Limp Bizkit) is 39. Actress Katie Holmes is 33. Singer Christina Aguilera is 31.

Source: Associated Press