The Emancipation Day Celebration is an observance of the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on Sept. 22, 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln after the battle at Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. This preliminary decree granted freedom to slaves in states not under Union control.
“This community is to be congratulated on having an event that is historic in nature,” Theodore DeLaney, Ph.D, the keynote speaker during Saturday’s events, stated. “The very idea that this community has this celebration that, as I understand it, has happened every year since 1863, is unbelievable.”
DeLaney, a historian and professor of history at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., provided a brief history behind the Emancipation Proclamation and the years immediately following.
“The history of late 19th Century and early 20th Century is very complicated and there’s some people who understand the difficulties of that time, there are others who don’t. There are some people who are heroes and there are many who are not,” DeLaney stated as he explained the difficulties that African Americans faced after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the hardships after the passage of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery.
DeLaney went on to describe many of the black leaders who rose during the early 20th century, including Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. DeLaney also discussed two supreme court cases that directly affected the Civil Rights Movement and challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine, Gaines v. Canada and Sweatt v. Painter.
DeLaney also addressed this year’s Emancipation theme, “From Chains to Change,” for which he was apprehensive about addressing what is happening now for the black race.
DeLaney, however, was optimistic about the Emancipation Celebration in Gallia County and the spirit of the black culture therein, “I certainly hope that it goes forward. I hope that it continues for another hundred years.”
Saturday’s celebration also included a scholarship presentation to 10 young adults within the community.
“Nothing lasts this long without great minds using great will, making great sacrifices to persevere,” Arthur Clark, coordinator of the Emancipation scholarship program stated. “I think as much as the Emancipation is about our past, I think the Emancipation is about the future. We are here to honor the future generation of leaders in supporting their educational pursuits.”
The young men and women are pursuing higher education degrees at various institutions throughout the state and Clark has great future hope the young leaders, “I hope that our support of their education pursuits will lead them back to this stage in the decades ahead to support the emancipation, to support their community and to support those that follow them.”
The members of the Cadot-Blessing Camp 126 of the Sons of Union Veterans were also on hand to provide a brief presentation about the Civil War and the role of colored soldiers in the Union Army.
Many other historic presentations, local and state leaders as well as musical selections filled the Emancipation Day Celebration on Saturday and Sunday.