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Come February, downtown Fredericksburg will host a 150th-anniversary commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation
By Ed Jones
FOR A document revered in American history, the Emancipation Proclamation can sound downright dull.
With legalistic references like "a fit and necessary war measure," its language more often lands with a thud than soars with a prayer.
Some historians suggest the proclamation's shortcomings extend beyond Abraham Lincoln having an off day with his prose. They argue that a limited measure, born as a strategic initiative, has been turned into a slavery-abolishing myth.
Historian Richard Hofstadter notes that the proclamation freed only those slaves over which the Union had no power. It targeted the Confederate states in rebellion and did not impact the slave-holding border states that had not seceded.
Thank goodness the closing reference to "an act of justice" was added at the last minute, after prodding from a member of Lincoln's Cabinet.
Yet, despite all those criticisms, this legendary document, signed by Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, has earned its special place in American history. As historian Eric Foner has persuasively argued, the proclamation "marked a dramatic transformation in the nature of the Civil War and in Lincoln's own approach to the problem of slavery." Its issuance ensured that eventually slavery would not exist in the United States.
That's why it is reassuringly appropriate that all are invited to gather on Feb. 16 in downtown Fredericksburg, a city that was loyal to the Confederate cause, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
"From Reconciliation to Hope: A Service of Remembrance, Celebration and Witness" will be even more powerful, thanks to the participation of a national leader who has faced her own array of human-rights challenges--the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
Much as Lincoln opened the door to emancipation while trying to hold together the nation, Schori has pushed the boundaries for women and minorities in a faith community scarred by divisions and secessions.
In many parts of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is part, women are not eligible to become priests, much less presiding bishops.
It seems there always will be inevitable tensions that go with efforts to tear down walls and open up opportunities. Those tensions will be reflected in the Feb. 16 events downtown.
WANT TO GO?
What: "From Reconciliation to Hope: A Service of Remembrance, Celebration and Witness"
When: 10 a.m. Feb. 16
Where: Service starts at St. George's Episcopal Church, 905 Princess Anne St., and concludes with a two-block Witness Walk and the unveiling of a sculpture that commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.