The Significance of the Emancipation Proclamation Festivities

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

What we don’t know could hurt us! I have no idea who coined the phrase, but it is so relevant to the annual Emancipation Proclamation parade and church services held each year on January 1 to commemorate the freeing of slaves. The celebration is a longstanding tradition. The true origin and purpose are lost among parade watchers, particularly young people. The Proclamation needs to be included in every school’s curriculum. The Emancipation Proclamation Association was started by a group of ministers and laypersons to celebrate the signing of the Proclamation and to ensure that this significant day is forever remembered.

Among the founding members are Rev. John Dowling, William Happy, Deacon Abraham Murrell, William Grimball, Rev. Fiester, Deacon Albert Hunt, Margaret Smalls, Essie Mitchell, Mattie Long, Rosa M. Latten, Lucille Williams Gadson, and Rice Harris.  All pioneers are deceased. Annice Brown, a long-time member served as past president, now serves as Director of the Youth/King and Queen Department. Ethel L. Greene and Dea. Robert Crawford serve as President and Vice-President respectively. Special tribute goes out to Dea. Albert Hunt and Lucille Gadson who refused to let the organization fall victim to apathy like so many other black organizations. After Dea. Hunt’s demise, Ms. Gadson said, “I may give out, but I won’t give up.” Now I see where I get so much gumption.

The Emancipation Proclamation was drafted by President Abraham Lincoln September 22, 1862 and signed into law on January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation was intended for the slaves in states that had seceded from the Union.  States that remained with the Union were not affected. There has been a lot of controversy over whether President Lincoln really freed the slaves. Was it an act of justice or an act of war?

The following was taken from the Proclamation, “Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion”…… Another excerpt reads, “And upon this act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”  So, was it an “Act of Justice” or military necessity? President Lincoln’s goal in the Civil War was to preserve the Union. When President Lincoln signed the Proclamation calling for the freedom of all slaves in the states that had seceded from the Union, there were over three million slaves in the Confederacy. Slaves could not enlist in the military or bear arms. President Lincoln’s signing of the Proclamation proved to be politically expedient to the defeat of the Confederacy. 

Whatever the reason, the Emancipation Proclamation takes its place in history among the greatest documents ever written for freedom. It was the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that finally put an end to slavery.

The significance of the Emancipation Proclamation has been diluted over the years because many believe that it was the Thirteenth Amendment and not the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. Then there was the question of when the new found freedom would be celebrated. It is unclear why some states celebrate the occasion on August 4, June 19 and January 1. Emancipation Day is celebrated at different times because slaves in different states were advised of their freedom many months after the actual signing of the Proclamation. Blacks in Texas celebrate their emancipation on June 19–commonly called Juneteenth–because that was the day they learned of their freedom. While some blacks may take exception to the date of the celebration, the celebration should be heightened because Blacks have come a long way from slavery to freedom. Blacks need to stop pretending that they have arrived because they have a half-way decent job and a house in some white community. Blacks will never be free until they free their minds of the entrenched attitude that still exists that they are inferior.

The Emancipation Proclamation celebrations started with the reading of the Proclamation by an Orator, church services and a street parade much like the people do today. However, many celebrations have died because of a lack of interest shown by those in the black community. The celebrations have never been fully supported by the black or white community because it is a sleeping dog they would rather let sleep. It is a painful reminder for blacks of an awful time in history, but it is necessary lest the past is repeated. All children need to be taught that things weren’t always the way they appear. Black children are living under a false sense of freedom. Freedom is not just the absence of shackles but the presence of opportunities.

After 157 years, blacks are still not free. The visible shackles that once bonded blacks to each other have been removed but the invisible remains. If we look at the number of blacks in prison, the number of blacks suspended, expelled and dropped out of school, the number of educated and qualified blacks passed over for jobs and promotions, the income level for the average black family of four remains below poverty level, the number of blacks sentenced disproportionately for the same crimes as whites, whites who refuse to do business with blacks because they cannot look beyond color or qualifications, banks that won’t grant loans to blacks in order to keep them in “their place”, the chains remain and the list of disparities is endless.

The parade will line up at Burke High School and travel up King Street to Calhoun Street and disband at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The high stepping Burke Band, a local favorite, will be out strutting their stuff. In years past, there have been three or four bands and ROTC Units, but participation has dwindled in recent years. The Association has worked hard this year to reorganize and rekindle the exhilarating celebration of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Orator for the day will be the Elder Ronald Wine, Pastor, Central RMUE Church. Services will be held at Charity Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III, Pastor.

What we don’t know can hurt us if we become complacent!! Think on these things. Happy New Year!!


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