The Daily Southerner
A program set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Edgecombe County Memorial Library will tell the story of African Americans’ quest for freedom during the Civil War.
“Freedom was more of a process and less of a proclamation,” said Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. Ijames’ presentation, “Freedom Coming, Freedom for All: The Emancipation Proclamation in North Carolina,” is a sneak peek of the exhibit that will be on display at the museum from May 15 until June 16, 2014.
“We always try to do some programming that ties in with Black History Month,” said Roman Leary, library director. “It’s also the 150th anniversary of the proclamation. It was serendipitous that Mr. Ijames is available to come in and do this program.”
Ijames said he hopes to “dispel the mythology that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.” In fact, he said the enslaved people were largely responsible for liberating themselves, through their service in the Union Army’s “African Brigade” after the issuance of the proclamation.
“Here in North Carolina, we have the fantastic historic sites and vistas where this all took place,” Ijames said. One of those sites is in Princeville.
“It’s actually the site where the federal troops read the proclamation to the freedmen in the early spring of 1865, on a knoll there on the riverbank,” Ijames stated. “You had this large amassment of ‘freedom seekers’ … that sought sanctuary behind Union lines.”
Another piece of local history that Ijames will discuss is Robert Taylor’s service in the state senate during Reconstruction, in 1885 and 1887. Taylor was an African American Republican who emigrated from Jamaica to Tarboro.
“He was serving when Princeville was ratified as the first town incorporated by formerly enslaved people in America,” Ijames said.
The proclamation was a “turning point” in a war that began to preserve the Union and turned into a battle to free the slaves, said Ijames. Lincoln seized the opportunity to claim victory at the bloody September 1862 Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md. and issue the proclamation. The “road to freedom” culminated in the ratification of the 13th Amendment by two-thirds of the Southern states, effectively ending the institution of slavery in the United States. Ijames noted that Mississippi just ratified the 13th Amendment on Wednesday after an oversight vacated a 1995 vote to do so. Two other states – Kentucky and New Jersey – have yet to ratify the Constitutional Amendment, according to a Fox News article published Feb. 18.
Thursday’s program kicks off the Friends of the Library’s 60th anniversary celebration.
“To have such an important piece of our country’s story so close at hand and to learn about it and its impact on our nation is an opportunity we cannot pass by,” said Paula Martin, Friends president. “Yes, it was extremely controversial and divisive, but this document began to set voices free along with bodies. We will benefit from meeting and listening to the person who knows this document and is responsible for its safekeeping at the museum. It might even get us talking about it.”
Refreshments will be served following Ijames’ talk.
“I’m hopeful this is going to kick off a very active year for the Friends of the Library,” Leary said.
Other celebrations in the works are a visit by an award-winning children’s author, tentatively scheduled for April, the summer children’s reading program, library card sign-up month in September, and the 5th Annual Friends Evening of Mystery and Intrigue in October. Formed in 1953, the Friends are an all-volunteer organization that supports programs and purchases special items for the library.