Images from Watch Night Celebrations Planned at Churches Throughout the Nation
For 150 years, African American churches have celebrated Watch Night. This is a tradition that has its origins rooted in the heart of the American Civil War. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the official Emanciaption Proclamation. The actual document had been written earlier in September of 1862, and Lincoln gave the states that had seceded 100 days to respond, in an effort to preserve the Union. Of course there was no official response, to re-join the Union, and on January 1, the act of Emancipation was issued.
This was a time of war. Many of the enslaved had already freed themselves, as opportunities occurred---and also the word of the upcoming Emancipation act had filtered into the slave communities. Although by 1863, many had left bondage by joining the Union Army and thousands had fled to the Union lines seeking refuge as "contrabands". But, many thousands remained still enlsaved. In those slaves quarters the word had become more than a whisper--on January 1st, they would be officially free! This was hard to believe and even harder to comprehend.
For so many enslaved, they could only turn to God. With that faith, they gathered in quarters large and small. Some if they were allowed to also have religious services, prayed and watched, and waited. This became the very first Watch Night.
This year, the very document--the Emancipation Proclamation will be commemorated on the 150th Anniversary of it's taking place.
While true, all were not freed by the document itself---it still represents the only official act addressing the status of enslaved men, women and children, and declared from the highest office in the land that they shall be, "forever free!" And since there is no celebration nor act to commemorate the end to enslavement, I shall embrace January 1st as Emancipation Day, on this 150th Anniversary of the Proclamation!
Forever free! Such sweet words these had to be, for those who were born in bondage, and for their parents born in bondage, their grandparents born in bondage. Generations of people were born on this soil sentenced to lifetimes of toil for no valid reason.
Forever free! Such sweet words for those who were born without hope, without sanctuary and without allies.
Forever free! Such sweet words for all men and women whose children would no longer suffer the yoke of restraint, and the heartbreaking pain of separation!
I honor those ancestors of mine who endured and in their honor, I shall have my very own Watch Night event.
From 6:00 pm till midnight, on December 31st, I shall make a post on my blog at the top of each hour---in commemoration of the Proclamation, and in commemoration of my ancestors, who lived, who died, and who endured. As was said in "Daughters of the Dust" : We are the descendants of those who chose to survive.
Join me on Watch Night 2012!