Emancipation: A Boston Celebration

On January 1st, 1863, thousands of people gathered to await word of Lincoln's
Emancipation Proclamation at Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts. Messengers
were stationed through the city from the telegraph office ready to bring word of Lincoln's
decision as it came over the wire.

In his third autobiography, Frederick Douglass describes that historic day at Tremont
Temple… "The occasion, wherefore, was one of both hope and fear…Whether we should
survive or perish depended in large measure upon the coming of this proclamation…
We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky, which should rend the fetters of
four millions of slaves; we were watching, as it were, by the dim lights of the stars, for the
dawn of a new day; we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries…"

When word reached Tremont Temple, the crowd exploded into jubilation as Douglass led
the singing of his favorite spiritual, "Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow." Lincoln had finally made
emancipation a tactic and a goal of the war, and with it, opened the doors of the military to
black soldiers. The Tremont Temple gathering ended around midnight, but Douglass and
hundreds of others continued the celebration up on Beacon Hill, in the black community, at
the 12th Baptist Church... "and soon that church was packed from doors to pulpit, and this
meeting did not break up till near the dawn of day. It was one of the most thrilling occasions
I ever witnessed, and a worthy celebration of the first step on the part of the nation in its
departure from the thraldom of ages."

Soon after the Proclamation, Massachusetts became the first Northern state to call for the
raising of black regiments. Douglass threw himself full force into this endeavor.

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the formation of
the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, the first African American regiment formed in
the North.

Last updated: December 13, 2012

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