This is a very important year for African Americans! We just celebrated the inauguration of an African-American President for a second term. In addition, this year marks the anniversaries of two pivotal events in the history of African Americans that have shaped our nation – the Emancipation Proclamation, signed in 1863, and the 1963 March on Washington, both of which opened doors for all peoples.
The Emancipation Proclamation set the United States on the path to end slavery. While initially a wartime measure, it freed few slaves but fueled the fire of the enslaved to strike for their freedom. Freedom crusaders like Harriet Tubman were already on the road to black self-emancipation. The action of both Lincoln and the slaves made it clear that the Civil War was, in fact, a struggle between the forces of slavery and emancipation. They stood at the crossroads of the dismantlement of the institutions of human bondage.
In 1963, a century later, America once again stood at a crossroads. On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans, of all nationalities, races and ethnicities, marched to the memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation, in pursuit of equality and self–determination. It was there that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech.
Just as the Emancipation Proclamation recognized the coming end of slavery, the March on Washington announced to the nation that the days of legal segregation in the United Stated were numbered. Again, this year we watched as the nation moved “beyond our old racial wounds,” taking one step closer to what our President refers to as “the path to a more perfect union.”
Today, we celebrate and remember the African Americans that, through their faithfulness to the cause of Christ and commitment to black emancipation, freedom, justice and equality, stepped out on faith and challenged unjust systems. We remember those who helped to change this nation through missions, at the crossroads of freedom and equality.
Statement Adapted from the Association for the Study of African American Life and history at www.asalh.org.