Black History Month - At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality

An ex-slave reads the Emancipation Proclamation in 1947.

The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington

In August 1861, Major General John C. Frémont, Union commander of the Western Department out of St. Louis, issued a declaration of martial law in Missouri in an attempt to contain the warring guerrilla rebels within the state.  Frémont believed slavery aided these rebels in their illegal activities.  As such, he included his own "emancipation proclamation" in the text of this declaration: “. . . all persons in the State of Missouri, who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken an active part with their enemies in the field . . . their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared freemen.”  Though President Abraham Lincoln was less than pleased and would ultimately force Frémont to rescind the order, this first proclamation against slavery opened a dialogue in America that would never again be quieted.  Frémont’s initiative was finally adopted by those in Washington over a year later when, on Jan. 1, 1863, President Lincoln declared slaves in all confederate states at war with the Union "forever free" in the official Emancipation Proclamation.  Our state continued its push toward the end of slavery when, in 1865, members of the constitutional convention in Missouri, including president of the convention Arnold Krekel, signed a document emancipating all slaves within our borders.  Krekel’s appointment to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri that same year would be one of the last federal nominations by President Lincoln.

This year’s theme of Black History Month is At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington, celebrating two important events in American history along with the contributions, past and present, of African Americans in the United States.   During this Black History Month, we commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held in August 1963, and we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tireless efforts toward civil rights.

Originally established as Black History Week in February 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson, the tribute was expanded into Black History Month in 1976 as part of our nation’s bicentennial.  Every President since Gerald Ford has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month, including our current leader and the first African American to hold the office, President Barack Obama.  As President Obama said in his 2012 official proclamation, “[W]e pay tribute to the contributions of past generations and reaffirm our commitment to keeping the American dream alive for the next generation.  In honor of those women and men who paved the way for us, and with great expectations for those to follow, let us continue the righteous cause of making America what it should be -- a Nation that is more just and more equal for all its people.”

To celebrate Black History Month in Missouri, participate in an event near you:

Western Missouri

Central Missouri

Eastern Missouri