DARC Ethiophile Chronicles
On this day
On "Watch Night" December 31, 1862 Residents of Rochester, N.Y., joined Frederick Douglass in a vigil in anticipation of the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect at midnight.
On New Year's Eve many African American churches hold prayer and worship services from the late evening until midnight when they welcome the new year with praise, thanksgiving, prayer, and confession. These services are called watch night meetings. December 31, 1862, was a very special evening for the African American community, because it was the night before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing all the slaves in the Confederate states.
Issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared that "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, it did change the basic character of the Civil War. Instead of waging a war to restore the old Union as it was before 1861, the North was now fighting to create a new Union without slavery. The proclamation also authorized the recruitment of African Americans as Union soldiers. By the end of the Civil War, approximately 180,000 African Americans had served in the Union army and 18,000 in the navy.
Abraham Lincoln's election led to secession and secession to war. When the Union soldiers entered the South, thousands of African Americans fled from their owners to Union camps. The Union officers did not immediately receive an official order on how to manage this addition to their numbers. Some sought to return the slaves to their owners, but others kept the blacks within their lines and dubbed them "contraband of war." Many "contrabands" greatly aided the war effort with their labor.
After the Emancipation Proclamation became effective black soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war. The Library of Congress holds histories and pictures of most of the regiments of the United States Colored Troops as well as manuscript and published accounts by African American soldiers and their white officers, documenting their participation in the successful Union effort. Both blacks and whites were outspoken about questions of race, civil rights, and full equality for the newly-freed population during the Civil War era.
Emancipated blacks were forced to begin their trek to full equality without the aid of "forty acres and a mule," which had been promised to them. The Library's collection records the new steps towards freedom on the part of the African American community, especially in the areas of employment, education, and politics. There is also an abundance of books, photographs, diaries, and manuscripts about many aspects of slave life and culture, such as the development of the "Negro Spiritual" and the role played by the United States Colored Troops in the South and the West.