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Black History Month, February 2013


At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality:

The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington


The year 2013 marks two important anniversaries in the history of African Americans and the United States. On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation set the United States on the path of ending slavery. A war‐time measure issued by President Abraham Lincoln, the proclamation freed relatively few slaves, but it fueled the fire of the enslaved to strike for their freedom. Increasingly those in bondage streamed into the camps of the Union Army, reclaiming ownership of their bodies. As Fredrick Douglass predicted, the war for the Union became a war against slavery. The actions of both Lincoln and the slaves made clear that the Civil War was in deed, as well as in theory, a struggle between the forces of slavery and freedom. The dismantlement of slavery had begun.


A century later in 1963, America once again stood at the crossroads. Nine years earlier, the Supreme Court had outlawed racial segregation in the public schools. Yet, the nation had not committed itself to equality of citizenship. Segregation and innumerable other forms of discrimination made second‐class citizenship the extra‐constitutional status of non‐whites. In the White House, John F. Kennedy, another progressive president, temporized over the legal and moral issue of his time. Like Lincoln before him, national concerns out‐weighed his personal beliefs. On August 27, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans, blacks and whites, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics , marched to the memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation, in pursuit of the ideal of equality of citizenship. It was on this occasion that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Just as the Emancipation Proclamation marked the beginning of the end of slavery, the March on Washington, as it became known, numbered the days of second‐class citizenship. In marking the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History invites all Americans to join us in studying and celebrating how two different generations of African Americans each transformed America.


This copy may be republished electronically with the following acknowledgement and link by the Association for the Study of African American Life & History at

A century ago, an interracial group of Americans joined together and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Two generations after emancipation, a tide of racism had betrayed the promise of first-class citizenship.  In the South, whites had stripped blacks of the right to vote and constructed a society based on racial segregation.  In the North, African Americans confronted myriad forms of discrimination that thwarted their aspirations.  The Supreme Court turned a blind eye to the denigration of American citizenship taking place across the land and in the government itself.
The story of the NAACP is the story of struggle to create and maintain equal citizenship for all Americans.  Through exposing the horrors of lynching, keeping the issue of equality before the courts, and organizing branches throughout the country, the NAACP drew a national following and inspired others to form organizations for racial change.  The NAACP's work gave hope not only to blacks in the North, but to men and women in the South like Rosa Parks and Medgar Evers.
The centennial of the NAACP is an occasion to highlight the problem of race and citizenship in American history, from experiences of free blacks in a land of slavery to the political aspirations of African Americans today.  The centennial also provides an opportunity to explore the history of other nations in the Americas, where former slaves also sought the fruits of citizenship. Source:

More about National African American History Month

Each February is designated as African American History Month or Black History Month in the United States to commemorate the rich and varied contributions of African Americans to the culture and history of the United States and the world.

In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard Ph.D. who 11 years earlier had founded the Association for the Study of Afro- American Life and History, initiated Negro History Week. In those early days, the words Afro and Black were seldom used. It was Dr. Woodson's hope that through this special observance, all Americans would be reminded of their ethnic roots, and that togetherness in the United States' racial groups would develop out of a mutual respect. Dr. Woodson chose for Negro History Week the period of February which contains the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. From its initiation, observance of Afro-American History Month has involved many ethnic groups, not only Black Americans. This event evolved into the establishment in 1976 of February as "Black History Month." This commemoration is also referred to as "African American History Month."

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