Jan. 1 is more than New Year’s Day. It’s also Emancipation Day, civil rights groups across the nation have declared.
New Year’s Day is the 156th anniversary of the date in 1863 on which the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln took effect, freeing African-Americans from slavery.
This year also marks the 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of slaves kidnapped from Africa into the torturous journey to American shores via a barbaric, trans-Atlantic slave trade, Rainbow PUSH Coalition Founder/President Rev. Jesse Jackson said Monday.
“The Emancipation Proclamation is the most consequential Executive Order in the history of the United States. There is no document more significant to America,” said Jackson, preparing to host a Chicago Emancipation Day celebration at PUSH headquarters Tuesday, with food, music and song.
Most Americans have never read the document, but to this day, it’s linked to a tradition at African-American churches called “Watch Night,” Jackson noted.
“The night before the proclamation went into effect, free blacks in the North and their enslaved brothers and sisters in the South sat vigil in churches, in shabby slave shacks and in moonlit plantation woods to watch, pray and hope throughout the night,” he said.
For more than a century and a half, African-American churches have continued that New Year’s Eve tradition of vigils of prayer and song.
The Emancipation Proclamation declared African-Americans enslaved by the Confederacy “forever free,” stating that the might of the U.S. government, “including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the 13th Amendment would then abolish slavery in 1865.
Luminaries behind Emancipation Day and propelling celebration nationwide include NAACP President/CEO Derrick Johnson; National Action Network Founder/President Rev. Al Sharpton; National Urban League President Marc Morial; and Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
Leaders say Emancipation Day kicks off a year of events commemorating the African-American journey from slavery to freedom and the continuing fight against racial inequities.
“This day is bigger than other days which we celebrate. It saved our union,” Jackson said.
“Confederate States President Jefferson Davis, who supported slavery, sedition and segregation, had allied with Britain and France to create a new country, a cotton kingdom,” Jackson said.
“Davis would have won that war had Lincoln not removed slaves from the supply lines of the Confederacy. And had the South won, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution would have meant nothing. So whites have just as much reason to celebrate as do African-Americans,” the civil rights leader said.
“For every American who cherishes freedom and Democracy, New Year’s Day should mean far more than college bowl games and parades. The nation must revive and reclaim the true meaning and significance of Jan. 1 — Emancipation Day.”
The PUSH celebration is 10 a.m.–12 p.m. Tuesday at 930 E. 50th St.