It had been almost fifteen months since President Lincoln made the preliminary announcement of an idea of ending slavery in the states in rebellion; it had been a year since that proclamation – the Emancipation Proclamation – was enforced. The provisions of that document extended freedom to slaves and authorized the use of freedmen “of suitable condition” in the military.
Areas of Union occupation in states that were in rebellion, such as coastal North Carolina, became places of refuge for former slaves and free people of color. Small coastal towns or river ports in North Carolina – Plymouth, Elizabeth City, Beaufort and New Bern – became centers of activity for these people. Gathering to worship together, drill together, form political organizations together, learn how to read and write together, the freed people exulted in their freedom.
Little wonder then on the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation these people would gather, pause, reflect and rejoice in the moment. The freed people in Beaufort organized a day of food and speeches – with at least one speech delivered by the luminous Abraham H. Galloway, who would burn bright with the fire of freedom until his untimely death during Reconstruction. Resolutions were passed calling for a restoration of their rights to suffrage and representation in North Carolina – rights that that had been stripped from free people of color in 1835. The freed people in Plymouth gathered in a church. Their jubilation included songs in addition to speeches. All across Union occupied North Carolina, African Americans fed the body and the soul in celebration of the proclamation.
These newspaper articles capture the spirit of the revelry and sense of purpose of these men and women.