News / USA

Order to Free Slaves 'Beginning of America Really Becoming America'

Mariama Diallo
It was 150 years ago that Union and Confederate troops squared off at Antietam Creek, Maryland, - a major Civil War victory for the Union that some historians say changed the course of American history.  That's because five days later President Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which eventually brought an end to slavery in the United States. Hundreds gathered to reflect on the nation's past at a remembrance observance at the Washington memorial that bears the 16th president’s name.

It was a day of remembrance for those gathered at the footsteps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate 150 years since the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

Congressman John Lewis, the son of farmers and whose ancestors were slaves, is a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For him, this anniversary has significance beyond words.
 
"It tends to dramatize that as of 150 years that a son or grandson or a great grandson of a slave can grow up and be honored by presidents of the U.S., including an African-American president, and [be] serving in Congress. It says something about the distance we've come and a progress we've made as a people," Lewis said.

Ed Ayers, a history professor at the University of Richmond, says the best way to explain the history of slavery and the U.S. Civil War is to get everyone in the story.

"The fact is that it took everybody to make this happen. If you don't have a leader such as Lincoln who's willing to take all these chances, it doesn't happen. If you don't have an army to carry it through, it doesn't happen. If you don't have the enslaved people showing or longing their desperation and determination, it doesn't happen," Ayers said.

"We have a live audience today from schools, colleges and universities," Ayers said.

Ayers spoke in a discussion streamed live to students around the country, like those gathered at George Mason University near Washington.

Student Brittany Passmore soaked up the lessons of the day.

"So when they talk about Abraham Lincoln using it as a political move, it's interesting to compare it to the political moves today in respect to the elections that are coming up," Passmore said.

Hollywood actress Alfre Woodard read from a slave woman's memoir written in 1861.

"Slavery is terrible for men but it's far more terrible for women, all you happy free women," Woodard read.

For Woodard, the Emancipation Proclamation is not just a document: "It is the beginning of America really becoming America. So that's a big celebration that belongs to all of us."

That lesson was not lost on the students attending the ceremony..

"To have the opportunity to understand the full impact it has had on the entire nation and not just slaves makes it more of a formidable piece of history,” said student Sean Smith.

The proclamation originally freed only the slaves in rebel states during the Civil War.

But many historians say Lincoln's original hand-written document, which rests in the National Archives, was the first step in a long process of expanding civil rights to all Americans.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs