Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of one of the most significant documents in American history, the Emancipation Proclamation.
Coming almost immediately after the battle of Antietam, the proclamation had tactical political and military motivations in the short term, but on the grand scale it had, and has continued to have, profound implications for the grand narrative of American history and the even broader international narrative that has enshrined individual liberty as a human right. At the immediate political and military level, the Proclamation, in Clemson historian Vernon Burton’s words, “free[d] Lincoln from the confines of contradictory war goals—fighting a war for democratic liberty but not against slavery;” on the broader front, as Howard University’s Edna Greene Medford writes, when the Proclamation came into effect on January 1st, 1863, it “transformed the legal status of nearly four million persons of African descent, from lawfully owned property to human beings ostensibly responsible to no one but themselves.” It was a massively important document, without which it is almost impossible to imagine how the century and a half between 1862 and now might have played out.
The document’s especial significance in South Carolina probably needs no elaborate explanation. Suffice it to say that Union-occupied parts of South Carolina were among the very few and very earliest portions of this country where the Proclamation had the immediate material effect of emancipation, and that South Carolina traditions marking January 1st as Emancipation Day have been among the strongest, most enduring, and most deeply felt in the nation, even during the years when legal segregation restricted the freedoms of African Americans in this state.
With this background, and as a spin-off from the Civil War Global Conflict sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, I would like to draw your attention to the CLAW program’s Jubilee Project 2013, a broad collaborative effort involving cultural, educational and historical institutions up and down the coast and all across the state, that will commemorate both the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Charleston County schools, Clemson University, and the University of South Carolina. In critically examining the events both of 1863 and 1963, we expect to ask searching questions about issues of freedom, equality and race in South Carolina and beyond. We hope that these questions, however difficult and uncomfortable they may be, will result in productive discussions. We welcome campus-wide and broader campus involvement in these conversations; if you are interested in learning more about the Project, please take a look at the press release on the College home-page and at our blog-site at http://jubileeprojectsc.wordpress.com/category/jubilee-project/.
From Simon Lewis,
Associate Director-Program in the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW) (http://www.cofc.edu/atlanticworld)