New Year’s Day, 1863

Compare our New Year’s to that of 1863 and be grateful we are no longer under the curse of slavery.  Peace to all as we enter 2012.

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Abraham Lincoln’s election led to secession and secession to war. When the Union soldiers entered the South, thousands of African Americans fled from their owners to Union camps. The Union officers did not immediately receive an official order on how to manage this addition to their numbers. Some sought to return the slaves to their owners, but others kept the blacks within their lines and dubbed them “contraband of war.” Many “contrabands” greatly aided the war effort with their labor.

After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was effective on January 1, 1863, black soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war. The Library of Congress holds histories and pictures of most of the regiments of the United States Colored Troops as well as manuscript and published accounts by African American soldiers and their white officers, documenting their participation in the successful Union effort. Both blacks and whites were outspoken about questions of race, civil rights, and full equality for the newly-freed population during the Civil War era.

Emancipated blacks were forced to begin their trek to full equality without the aid of “forty acres and a mule,” which many believed had been promised to them. The Library’s collection records the new steps towards freedom on the part of the African American community, especially in the areas of employment, education, and politics. There is also an abundance of books, photographs, diaries, and manuscripts about many aspects of slave life and culture, such as the development of the “Negro Spiritual” and the role played by the United States Colored Troops in the South and the West.

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