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November 11, 2013

ODU Event to Commemorate 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation

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Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is widely touted as the declaration that ended American slavery. But did it really?

To mark the upcoming 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, an Old Dominion event aims to shed light on this immensely important, yet often misunderstand, milestone in the African American experience.

The ODU Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity will commemorate the proclamation's signing from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the North Cafeteria of Webb Center. The theme of the program will be: "What is FREEDOM and who defines it?"

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 - nearly three years into a savage civil war that tore the country apart.

Despite proclaiming "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free," the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways, according to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

"It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border-states," the archive's website explains. "It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon union military victory."

What the Emancipation Proclamation did, according to NARA, was "it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war" by paving the way for nearly 200,000 black soldiers and sailors to serve in the Union Army and Navy.

Highlights of the ODU commemoration include:

  • ODU associate professor of English Tim Seibles will open the program with a poetic expression of "Reflections," written by Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who went on to become a leader in the abolitionist movement and a highly regarded writer/orator and social reformer.
  • Michael Hucles, ODU associate professor of history, will discuss the historical context of the Emancipation Proclamation, the uncertainties, and localize the discussion to the Hampton Roads area with a specific emphasis on the excluded territory of Norfolk.
  • Jesse Richman, ODU associate professor of political science, will continue the dialogue with a discussion of the structure of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was shaped by Lincoln's concerns about the scope of his constitutional powers. He will trace key elements of this history up to a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that declared parts of the federal Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.
  • ODU student Kimberly Morris, who is double majoring in sociology and criminal justice, will recite a poem she wrote, titled "Freedom is Not Free."
  • The program will culminate with demonstrations of the power, strength and celebration of African drumming and African/Caribbean dance.

Throughout the evening, guests will have an opportunity to view an enlarged photocopy of the Emancipation Proclamation; an exhibit displaying digital images documenting the sale of slaves; and a presentation of period images developed by Robert Wojtowicz, ODU professor of art history and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Arts and Letters.

For more information about the Emancipation Proclamation, including a full transcript, visit the National Archives website.

For more information about the ODU commemoration, contact Melvina Sumter at msumter@odu.edu.