Today is not only the New Year, but also the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Having just finished reading the new non-fiction young adult book, The Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Bolden, the significance of this day is greatly enhanced.
This is the history we never learned in school.
Bolden plunges the reader into the social and political climate leading up to the event, and the enigmatic character of Abraham Lincoln. She begins the book with a quote by Frederick Douglass, “We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky…we were watching, as it were, by the dim light of the stars, for the dawn of a new day; we were longing for the agonizing prayers of centuries.”
Voices from contemporary participants and observers such as Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, John Charles Fremont, Harriet Tubman, Charlotte Forten, Sandy Cornish and many others are recounted. (If you don't recognize some of these names their stories will become very meaningful to you after reading the book.) The text is delivered in an active, present tense similar to a news report, so that there is immediacy to all the events. (Some may note that not much has changed, when the political animosity of congress members is described.) Illustrated with contemporary paintings, political cartoons and photographs, each with detailed captions, noting the social, political or ideological markers that may be lost on present-day readers, the visual literacy of the reader is greatly enhanced.
Lincoln is revealed in all his contradictory statements and philosophies, which illustrate his difficulty in coming to a decision which satisfied his moral, political, legal and constitutional views. Bolden inserts parts of the constitution and the evolving proclamation, so that the problems in coming to a consensus on a difficult issue can be understood.
In the Epilogue, a measured yet personal examination of Lincoln and the proclamation is presented, which will be a spur to lively discussions and reflection in the classroom.
For the New Year, and for this anniversary, may teachers and students use texts such as these to create a greater understanding of our history.