January 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation
Exodus narrative dramatically shifted the discourse on slavery from the
authority of white voices to the control of black voices.
original purpose for the document may have been to free slaves; or it
may have been solely a strategic move by President Abraham Lincoln to
decimate the Confederate troops stronghold in the South and win the
Civil War. Its purpose was probably a little bit of both. Regardless
of Lincoln’s intent, my ancestors named the day of Lincoln’s
signing of this historic document Jubilee Day. Many African Americans
continue to celebrate Jubilee Day with a New Year's Eve church
service called “Watch Night Service.”
grew up in the tradition. Every December 31st there was a mad rush to
clean the house, cook a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck, and
call folks to tell them that, if God wills, you’ll see them in the
New Year. Then we’d prepare for the most important event of New
Year’s Eve, the “Watch Night Service,” which always started at
ten o’clock that evening, and ended at midnight with us stepping
into a new year.
New Year's Eve many folks joined in on the celebration: Boston's
Museum of African American History celebrated the sesquicentennial of
President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation with
a concert by the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus and the story of
Boston's role in this historic event. The Huffington Post marked the
150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with publishing
to Our Ancestors",
by African Americans.
celebration this historical moment I was asked what gifts my enslaved
ancestors passed on to future generations to assist us in our
continued fight for freedom. While clearly there are many,
inarguably, one of the greatest gifts my ancestors passed on to
African Americans is their use of the Bible as a liberation tool. And
,even today, for many African Americans will contest their
Emancipation Proclamation is the Bible.
Bible, with all its inconsistencies, continues to have moral
authority in the African-American religious community. Functioning as
a moral text, the Bible is used as a tool to form and to frame a
democratic moral order.
they knew that their liberation is not only rooted in their acts of
social protests, but it is also rooted in their use of language,
which is why they used the Exodus narrative in the Old Testament as
their talking-book. Functioning as a talking-book for my ancestors,
the Exodus narrative dramatically shifted the discourse on slavery
from the authority of white voices to the control of black voices. In
so doing, Exodus was used to rebuke themes of silence, exclusion and
oppression in the text, which in return allowed my ancestors to
represent themselves as speaking subjects outside of the text.
The Rev. Dr.
King masterfully contextualized the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in
the story of the Exodus narrative, and the church, media and American
public saw him as a present-day Moses.
America for African Americans continues to come slowly, just as it
did for my ancestors awaiting the good news that President Lincoln's
Emancipation Proclamation had finally become law. But only slaves in
the 10 Confederate States were declared legally free even as the
Civil War was still going on.
actually pinpoint a single day that all African Americans were free
is still difficult given how the states were so strongly divided on
the issue of black emancipation.
ancestors named the day of Lincoln’s signing of this historic document
Jubilee Day. Many African Americans continue to celebrate Jubilee Day
with a New Year's Eve church service called “Watch Night Service.”Massachusetts
abolished slavery in 1783, eighty years before Lincoln's edict, and
our nation's capitol, Washington, D.C. abolished slavery on April 16,
1862, just eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation. Many
other states did not manumit their enslaved until the end of the
Civil War on April18,
1865. And news of the wars end traveled unevenly throughout the
country with Texas being the last receiving the news on
June 19, 1865, a day celebrated among African Americans as
“Juneteenth.” The absolute end of the slavery came with the
ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which was passed
by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865.
after the Emancipation Proclamation, King stood on the steps of the
Lincoln Memorial and said, "one hundred years later, the Negro
still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is
still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of
King is gone
from us now and we're in a new century with the election of Barack
Obama in 2008 as our country's first African-American president and
his reelection in 2012. My ancestors who built the White House could
have never imagined that one of their progenies would one day occupy
ancestors were happy about the signing of the Emancipation
Proclamation, but they also were prescient about our continued long
and arduous journey toward freedom, which is why they passed on to us
their talking-book and it's still talking for us today.
Board member and Columnist, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion
columnist, theologian, and public speaker.
is the Coordinator of
of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry
(CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion.
native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as
a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard
Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently
named to MSNBC’s list of
Black Women You Should Know.
Reverend Monroe is the author of
Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers
for Not’So’Everyday Moments.
As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector
of society that is frequently invisible. Her website
to contact the Rev. Monroe.