This July 4th is the United States’ 239th birthday, which got me thinking a little bit about our country’s birth certificate – the Declaration of Independence.
Everyone knows that the Declaration is stored in Washington, D.C. in the National Archives (assuming you’ve all seen National Treasure). It’s on display along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights under maximum security and with the latest preservation techniques.
But it hasn’t always been a part of the Archives, or so well protected. And it certainly hasn’t been all that stationary.
Tonight most of us in the District will be spending New Year’s Eve celebrating with a watch party to see the ball drop in Times Square.
But every December 31st, there’s another type of watch night gathering – one that commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect on January 1, 1863.
The very first Watch Night was held around the country on New Year’s Eve 1862, by African Americans and abolitionists waiting to hear word that Abraham Lincoln had signed the Proclamation.
The night was dubbed Freedom’s Eve, and witnessed the first major step toward the abolition of slavery in the United States. It also added a new significance to what had been an end-of-year religious tradition for many Protestant churches by creating a new tradition for African American churches.