Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Emancipation, New Year, Haitian Independence Celebration

January 1st has various meanings for different people and nations. If you are a person of African descent living in America, it is the day that President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law. That law granted immediate freedom to the enslaved in the Rebellion. I imagine that it was a day of great celebration, excitement, trepidation, and finally, uncertainty.

In the years before the proclamation, it was the time after Christmas, and slaves were usually cotton “ginning,” which is the process of separating the lint from the seed. For some slaves, January was also called “Heartbreak Day” because it was the day when fathers, sons, daughters, or mothers were hired out by the master to do contract work on other plantations.

Today, it is a celebration of the New Year – a new beginning and opportunity to start fresh with a new slate. However, we must never forget the struggle of our African ancestors. They struggled and they prayed so that we can have a better reason to celebrate the New Year. On the campus of Hampton University, a historical black college in Hampton, Virginia, stands the Emancipation Oak. The Emancipation Proclamation was read under this majestic oak (pictured above) on that day in 1863; it remains a symbol of resiliency.

My prayer is that America as a nation will begin to come to terms with that day because many are not even aware of the date or month of the proclamation. We must know the history, teach it to the young and old of every age group, and find a way to move forward together as a nation.

Happy Emancipation Day, Happy Independence Day for Haiti, and Happy New Year! God bless America. Amen.

Sources:, Wikipedia, Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter : With the Journal of Thomas B. Chaplin (1822-1890)

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