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Remembering the 160th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

The Emancipation Proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

This January 1, 2023 marks the 160th anniversary of one of the United States' most important documents of freedom, the Emancipation Proclamation.

One September 22, 1862, one year into the brutal Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation adding that it wouldn't take effect until the following year on January 1, 1863. While the Emancipation Proclamation did not unilaterally abolish slavery, it did emancipate those individuals enslaved in the Confederate states, however it was limited in many ways. For instance, it only applied for specific Confederate states that seceded the Union however slavery still remained in border states that proved their loyalty. It also did not apply to Confederate states that already had come under control of the North. Only the Thirteenth Amendment would abolish slavery fully in 1865, So on New Years Eve enslaved African Americans all across the South gathered in secret, in churches and private homes on December 31, 1862 in what was known as "Watch Night," not because of the dawn of a New Year, but for a new life of freedom from bondage. Although limited in scope, the Emancipation Proclamation still made a tremendous and powerful impact on the history of our nation.

African Americans and the Military

The Emancipation Proclamation also heralded the acceptance of Black men to enlist in the Union Army and Navy enabling the "liberated to become liberators." By the end of the Civil War nearly 200,000 Black soldiers and sailors had courageously fought for the Union victory and freedom.

Black military regiment
African American Civil War Soldiers

To read a transcript of the Emancipation Proclamation click here

A Personal Mount Peace Cemetery Story of Freedom

History is more than documents though, it's about people and their life experiences. I'd like to introduce you to Robert "Doc" Wooden, a man whose life was directly affected by the Emancipation Proclamation. Robert Wooden was born enslaved on a Virginia plantation in 1849. He never knew who his parents were. Shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, fourteen year old Robert was liberated and travelled from the South and came North to settle in Camden, New Jersey. What I can share about Robert is that he married his wife Adeline Wooden and was employed at the iron foundry in Camden City as a metal worker. He held this job for more than 50 years and was a well respected and admired citizen of the Camden community for nearly 60 years. Subsequently widowed, "Doc" as he was affectionately called was a man of faith and frugality. He passed away in July of 1922 and in his obituary below, his funeral and memorial were largely attended by many people Black or White, including delegations from the Camden police and fire departments. A known singer, "Doc's" favorite hymn. "Lord In the Morning" was sung at his memorial by the Tenth Street Baptist Church choir. "Doc" Wooden was buried in Mount Peace Cemetery at Lawnside.

newspaper clipping
Funeral Announcement for Robert "Doc" Wooden, July 18, 1922, Courier Post

So on this New Years Day let us reflect on the unconquerable spirits of our ancestors and be inspired to live with purpose and never forget their sacrifices.

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