Several hours ago, New York television stations reported that people have already begun to gather in Times Square to welcome the New Year.
As the New Year approached 150 years ago, people across the United States prepared to welcome a moment of immense significance.
President Lincoln had issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It provided that if the states in rebellion against the United States did not cease fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in those states or parts of those states would be declared free from that date forward.
The fighting did not cease. On December 31, 1862, the nation waited. African-Americans gathered for Watch Night Services awaiting the word. And the word came.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery outright. It did not immediately free anyone as the Union could not enforce the proclamation in the rebellious states. It did not address the issue of slavery in the so-called border states. It did not recognize that many people held in slavery had taken matters into their own hand and had freed themselves.
But the Emancipation Proclamation sent a message of hope to African-Americans. It sent a message of support to all who worked for freedom. It sent a message of intention to the nation and the nations. The war to preserve the Union became a war for human liberation as well.
The Emancipation Proclamation provided a measure of protection to the African-Americans who had freed themselves or who had been freed either by the efforts of the Union army or abolitionists. It paved the way for further steps such as the acceptance of African-Americans into the U.S. military and the eventual abolition of slavery.
This 150th anniversary affords an opportunity to remember the events of the past and to remember the people, our ancestors, who gave of themselves that all people might know freedom, justice, and equality.
This 150th anniversary affords an opportunity to repent, acknowledging that, while great strides have been made, the journey to racial justice remains long and challenging. We have work to do.
And so this 150th anniversary affords ourselves an opportunity, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “to rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the [children] of God, and our [sisters and brothers] wait eagerly for our response.”
May it be so.
See you along the Trail.