Photo credits: The Chicago Defender
February 1 is most notably recognized as the first day of Black History Month.
However, the day’s significance is defined by more than that. It starts in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. But Lincoln knew that a proclamation wouldn’t be enough — leading to the creation of the 13th Amendment.
The 13th Amendment, which formally abolished slavery, was officially approved on February 1, 1865. Almost 100 years later, that day became known as National Freedom Day. An accomplished Black man born into slavery is who made it all possible.
Richard Wright, Founder of National Freedom Day
It all began with Richard R. Wright (pictured), who at the time of the proclamation’s signing was just 9 years old and enslaved, according to the National Constitution Center. Wright went on to have an expansive career — serving as the first president of Savannah State University, a civil rights advocate, and an author (Asmelash, 2020).
It was not until Wright was 86, in 1942, that he began seriously lobbying for the creation of National Freedom Day, according to the National Constitution Center. Wright held grassroots celebrations honoring February 1. He even went on a national speaking tour while working with legislators to get the day recognized.
However, Wright never saw his dream realized. He died in 1947 — a year before the day was ultimately signed into federal law.
The U.S. Government Establishes Richard Wright’s Dream
On January 25, 1949, U.S. President Harry Truman signed a bill establishing National Freedom Day on February 1.Though the day was not made into a federal holiday, Truman wrote in the proclamation that citizens should “pause” and contemplate freedom on the day.
“I call upon the people of the United States to pause on that day in solemn contemplation of the glorious blessings of freedom which we humbly and thankfully enjoy,” Truman wrote.
Reference: Asmelash, L. (2020, February 01) February 1 isn’t just the start of Black History Month. It’s National Freedom Day, created by a former slave commemorating abolition. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/01/us/national-freedom-day-richard-wright-trnd/index.html
*BlackThen.com writer/historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.