Yesterday was not only the first day of the New Year, it was also a milestone celebration of an event that took place in these United States 150 years ago - the signing by President Abraham Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation. This bold move, taken in the midst of our historic Civil War, laid the groundwork for the recognition of equality among all peoples, a struggle that is yet to be realized in its totality. In the Proclamation, the President declared that all slaves in the Confederate States were free men and women. It was a simple yet profound declaration of what should have been seen as obvious, but which was not. The Dred-Scott Supreme Court decision had declared that slaves were property and did not have the dignity or rights of human beings. The slaves of the South, vital for the economy, were seen and treated in different ways by different families. And yet slavery, subjugation and inequality denied God given freedoms and dignity. This bold move placed the question of slavery within the context of that great war, and became a rallying cry for many.
The movie "Lincoln" which was released recently is an excellent portrayal of the subsequent efforts of the President and others of passing an Amendment to the Constitution (the 13th) that would grant equality to all citizens. That effort took place following the Proclamation and preceded the President's death, in the Spring of 1863.
Even with that Amendment, it took years until the Civil Rights Movement's gains in this country, and we are not there yet. The struggle continues, and is not only one of color, but of ethnic prejudice, of economic persecution and inequality, and of our basic denial of God given dignity. But January 1, 1863 was an important step in our journey as a nation.