Despite the emancipation of African Americans and the District of Columbia becoming the first thriving slave territory to free more than 3000 Blacks several months before President Abraham Lincoln rendered the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, many today, reflecting on the long and sometimes difficult journey, say the battle for real political, social and economic empowerment is not over, especially when some African Americans are still fighting for the right to vote in 2013.
A battle the Detroit Branch NAACP, the largest chapter of the nation’s storied civil rights organization, says must continue as the group hold its 58th Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner on April 28 at Cobo Convention Center under the theme “Freedom Must Never Be Defaulted, It Must Forever Be Exalted,” during which it will honor individuals who exemplify the continued struggle for the liberation and advancement of Blacks in all facets of life.
And Washington, DC, in particular, recently commemorated the 151st Emancipation Day honoring an African American leader, Loretta Carter Hanes, for her commitment and dedication to raising the public’s conscience about the history of the Emancipation at an event attended by Black luminaries.
Clarence Davis, a leading historian in the nation and public administrator of the DC Office of Public Records and chairman of the Emancipation Day Committee, in an exclusive interview with the Michigan Chronicle said Blacks, “have an obligation to commemorate in Detroit, Washington, D.C., Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angles, Houston and all over the country, the triumphant struggle over slavery through the abolitionist and emancipation movement.”
Davis said at a time when African Americans continue to face many hurdles, including discrimination in varied forms and challenges to voting rights, it is important to commemorate it as a living memorial to the many African Americans who gave their lives in the quest for freedom.
“African Americans the country over must never forget the history and our plight in the struggle from indentured servitude, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and the suffering of oppression in America,” Davis said. “Thus our remembrance of this struggle is commemorated through emancipation as the first historical landmark in our celebration for freedom.”
Georgia Congressman John Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and architect of the 1963 March on Washington, in an editorial published earlier this year in the Washington Post, said, “Evidence proves there are forces in this country that willfully and intentionally trample on the voting rights of millions of Americans. That is why every president and every Congress, regardless of politics or party, has reauthorized Section 5.”
Lewis, who will be in Detroit in May at the Max M. Fisher Music Center to be honored at the 15th Annual Ford Freedom Award, spoke out as the U.S. Supreme Court was considering a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of voter suppression to clear with the U.S. Department of Justice before any changes to voting laws.
“The right to vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy. I risked my life defending that right. Some died in the struggle. If we are ever to actualize the true meaning of equality, effective measures such as the Voting Rights Act are still a necessary requirement of democracy,” Lewis wrote.
Lewis would later challenge the conscience of members of Congress when he read the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution during the debt limit battle, noting, “It was a moral imperative, something this nation had to do to begin to free itself from the blight of selling human beings for profit. President Lincoln and others used their power to right a moral wrong and changed the destiny of this country forever. It is one example of the best kind of contribution legislators can make to society.”
Davis, the historian, agrees and said that is the reason why recognizing Emancipation Day in the nation is important to remind tomorrow’s leaders of the challenges confronting them.
“The history of the peculiar institution of slavery is our story to hold before the world in the commemoration of emancipation and as a paradigm and testament for all who yearn to be free,” Davis said. “The commemoration of emancipation is our conscience that reminds us to never forget the pain, death, and affliction suffered by many through slavery, oppression, suppression and degradation.”
The commemoration of emancipation must become a living chronicle to teach the uniformed about our plight in the struggle for freedom, liberty, justice and equality, Davis said.
“We must keep the conscience of emancipation alive as we continue to fight the battles of disenfranchisement that were so prevalent in the 2012 election,” he said. “As noted in the election of the first African American president, Barack Obama, our struggle for freedom, liberty, justice and equality is not over. Therefore, we must be forever vigilant in fighting against the oppressive forces that want to take us back to the darks days of racial oppression.”
Cynthia Brock-Smith, secretary of the District of Columbia, underscored the importance of recognizing individuals like Hanes who “organized community programs to commemorate the lost history of Emancipation Day celebrations. Because of Mrs. Hanes’ unwavering commitment to bring back Emancipation Day, it is now a public legal holiday.”
First Lady Michelle Obama, delivering the keynote address at the 2012 Congressional Black Caucus Dinner, said the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is an indication of the long pilgrimage that has now produced the first Black president.
“It is the story of continuous, breathtaking progress from one generation to the next. It’s the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle,” Obama said. “It’s the story of men and women who said to themselves, I might not fulfill my dreams, but if I march, if I stand strong on this bridge, if I endure another night in this jail cell, then maybe my children will fulfill their dreams, maybe my grandchildren will.”
And many now look to the Obama era as the beginning of another chapter in the African American experience and what it means for Blacks to mark emancipation with special significance.
“The commemoration of emancipation is the fuel that drives the forces for freedom struggles of all types around the country today,” Davis said.
Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of the forthcoming book “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future With Courage.” His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his personal page at www.bankolethompson.com.