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President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The document proclaimed "all persons held as slaves ... are, and hencforward shall be free."
In Virginia, the Emancipation Proclamation was first read under an oak tree in Hampton. The tree was a gathering place for freed African-Americans to quench "a great thirst for knowledge," which was prohibited in Virginia but made permissible because they were behind Union lines. It was under this tree that the South first learned of President Lincoln's declaration of freedom. Visit the Emancipation Oak at Hampton University. National Geographic Society calls it one of the 10 Great Trees of the World.
Freedom from slavery was the key outcome of the Emancipation Proclamation, but the document also allowed African-Americans to officially fight for the Union. It is important to note that the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to "rebellious states," not the border slave states or areas occupied by the Union.
Not until December 6, 1865 was the Thirteenth Amendment ratified, legally emancipating all enslaved people.
On January 1, 1963 the United States Congress declared January 1 Emancipation Proclamation Day - 100 years after its signing by President Lincoln.
The African-American community in Richmond often celebrated their own version of Emancipation Day on April 3, the day Richmond - the Capital of the Confederacy - fell to the Union. April 3 was also known as Evacuation Day, referring to the fall of the Confederacy.
June 19 is widely recognized and celebrated as Juneteenth in honor of the day General Gordon Granger read a military order freeing the enslaved African-Americans of Texas - June 19, 1865.
The Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives & Records Administration
Emancipation Oak. Hampton University
Virginia Memory: Emancipation Proclamation. Library of Virginia
Freedom of Assembly: Online exhibit showcases little-known Emancipation Day marches and celebrations. Virginia Commonwealth University
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