2013 not only marks the beginning of a new year; it is also a critical anniversary in our nation's history. Our Eva McKend was at the FDR Mid-Hudson Bridge with the Dutchess County Historical Society for its commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation.
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- "It’s a beautiful bridge. It spans both sides of the river and so it has a message to give with those lights. It’s up to us to let the world know," said Dutchess County Historical Society Black History Committee Chair Lorraine Marie Roberts.
The Emancipation Proclamation was the beginning of the end of the institution of slavery in America. The Dutchess County Historical Society's Black History Committee lit up the FDR bridge to observe the documents 150th anniversary.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the executive order during the Civil War. Though it could not be enforced, it declared slaves held in Confederate states were free.
While films like Dream Works Lincoln emphasize the role of the 16th President, historians argue as the country remembers this anniversary, it is critical to remember the abolitionists---and slavery's present day implications.
"It pin points, shall we say, a very low point in the history of this country. That is one human family enslaving its fraternal twin in this case African people and we need to take into consideration what went on in its wake and that is the rise of racism, what we are really dealing with today," said SUNY New Paltz Professor of Black Studies, Dr. AJ Williams-Myers.
"Though the Emancipation Proclamation is historically significant because of the message it sent during the Civil War, it is the 13th Amendment that outlawed slavery in America."
"When the Africans who were enslaved got word of it, many of them walked off, you see and the South knew that essentially their property was leaving them because they had gotten the word that the individual in Washington, Abraham Lincoln, had signed a piece of paper that said that we here in these Southern states that are still in rebellion are free," added Williams-Myers.
"The Emancipation didn’t really free the slaves, it started the ball rolling for the freedom of the slaves," said Roberts.
After the Civil War, black elected officials worked with their white counterparts during the Reconstruction Era to transition America to a nation without slavery. Those officials and Hudson Valley abolitionists like Sojourner Truth and Stephen Myers often are not celebrated.
"We as historians must begin to bring them out of the shadows, those warriors, those freedom fighters of African descent," said Williams-Myers.
Beyond commemorative stamps and symbolic gestures, it is the history that surrounds the Proclamation that many hope will live on.