The Happiest New Year Yet?
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day bring more celebration than any other day on the calendar. The entire world literally throws a party in thanksgiving for a year past and anticipation of a year to come. For most of the world, new hopes, new resolutions, and new opportunities abound.
This New Year, I’m struck by how much has happened for African Americans and the African diaspora on New Year’s Day.
On January 1, 1804, Haiti achieved independence from France. The Haitian Revolution sent shock waves throughout the world, signaling that resistance could indeed succeed.
On January 1, 1808, the United States outlawed the slave trade. The country would continue domestic slavery for another 55 years. But the transportation of African people across the Atlantic Ocean ceased and another step in the long march toward freedom was taken.
On January 1, 1831, William Lloyd Garrison published the first issue of The Liberator. Garrison’s paper became a major abolitionist voice until the demonic institution was ended and championed the rights of women. Three-quarters of the paper’s subscribers were African Americans who welcomed the paper’s religious and moral insistence on the immediate emancipation of enslaved Africans. Garrison’s The Liberator and other voices helped African Americans take two more strides toward freedom.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s proclamation applied only to the states that seceded from the union. But it fostered a clearer sense of the possibility of slavery’s end. The statement opened:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”
Pres. Abraham Lincoln, The Emancipation Proclamation
For the first time in the nation’s history, the country took a decisive stance in defense of Black freedom. Lincoln committed the country to a posture that would be challenged in counter Reconstruction, sometimes reversed as with segregation laws, sometimes betrayed with the removal of Federal troops. But it would also sometimes be maintained by force, as with troops called to integrate public schools, and all the while advanced one step at a time as African Americans continued pushing for freedom and full inclusion in a country we were forced to help build.
On January 1, 1916, Dr. Carter G. Woodson published the first issue of The Journal of Negro History. Woodson, the father of Black history, made the study of African-American history a legitimate discipline and popularized its study through Negro History Week which eventually became Black History Month. Woodson’s work began to marry physical freedom to the mental freedom necessary for genuine liberation.
As I contemplate a few momentous events, I’m prayerful that this New Year’s Day somewhere in the diaspora there’s an enterprising, focused, and hopeful person doing something that will one day mark another advance in the long sojourn of people of color. Be they a Woodson or Louverture, a Garrison or Lincoln, or another anonymous person made in the image of God enduring, struggling, hoping, and advancing in undocumented and unknown ways, may the Lord continue the long arc toward justice this year. Happy New Year!