Ambedkar spoke on the similarities between the struggle of Blacks Americans and Dalits in India in What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables. Dalit is the proper name for someone that suffers from untouchability. Ambedkar named the political party he started the Indian Republican Party after the party that freed the slaves in America. He was intensely studied on issues involving Black Americans and corresponded with W.E.B Dubois, the most prominent Black leader of the day.
Ambedkar revered Lincoln but also researched his motives well enough to understand him. He mentions an 1862 correspondence with Horace Greenly in which Lincoln says his primary goal was to preserve the Union. If freeing the slaves was needed, he would free slaves. If keeping all the slaves was required, he would keep everyone enslaved. Ambedkar likened Lincoln’s conditional support for abolition to Gandhi’s conditional support for Dalit rights. Gandhi would only speak on untouchability if the cause of Indian independence required Dalit support.
Fortunately, the victory of the Union was heavily dependent on the support of black Americans. 125,000 freed slaves joined Union forces along with 80,000 freed blacks from the North. These brave soldiers fought in 450 battles. The Black soldiers faced even more danger than Whites because they would not be recognized as POWs and sent back to slavery. They also received less pay from the Union forces until 1864. Thirty-seven thousand black soldiers fell to preserve the Union.
Once the war was over, the government understood that constitutional safeguards were needed to ensure the freedom of Blacks. The 13th amendment ended slavery, and the 14th amendment provide birthright citizenship to all Americans. Finally, the 15th amendment outlawed discrimination due to color. The American Congress passed the Reconstruction Act to facilitate the re-entry of rebelling states. All southern states must frame a new constitution and ratify the 14th amendment.
The old southern powers did not take this lying down. The Ku Klux Klan was formed to terrorize Black citizens. The southern governments instituted the Grandfather Clause that state one could not vote unless their grandfather could vote. When Blacks went to the court to fight the Grandfather Clause and get protection from Klansman, the government abandoned them. The North was not ready to re-engage the South in war. Their state in society steadily declined after the government abandoned Black people.
Both Black Americans and Dalits needed constitutional safeguards and a specific plan of redress. Ambedkar fought for Dalits to have access to all public facilities, including water resources. When India was transitioning out of British rule, Ambedkar proposed and won a special electorate with reserved seats in parliament for Dalits. His most impressive and longest-lasting accomplishment was a mass conversion of Dalits into Buddhism. As a matter of self-respect, one could not stay part of a religion that views them as inferior. The conversion to Buddhism was a recognition of Dalit humanity.