Emancipation Proclamation heralded at Goodwin College

By Evan Pajer - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Feb. 15, 2013
Lincoln re-enactor Howard Wright reads from the Emancipation Proclamation during the Goodwin College event on Feb. 12. Photos by Evan Pajer.
Lincoln re-enactor Howard Wright reads from the Emancipation Proclamation during the Goodwin College event on Feb. 12. Photos by Evan Pajer.

On Feb. 12, Goodwin College hosted a presentation by a series of speakers and a panel discussion to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation as part of its Black History Month program. Goodwin students and members of the East Hartford community were in attendance to hear a unique take on the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War.

The event started with a speech by Howard Wright, a Lincoln re-enactor who went over the circumstances Abraham Lincoln faced in drafting the Emancipation Proclamation. Wright said that Lincoln acted on his own without going through Congress and acted against advice given to him by his cabinet members when he drafted the document. Wright said that the document had three major goals: identifying areas that were part of the Confederate rebellion, proving that the northern states would follow through on ending slavery by freeing the slaves in those areas, and allowing former slaves to join the military.

Christy Colman, president of the American Civil War Center, said that although some historians today believe that the Emancipation Proclamation was a mostly symbolic document that did not change anything, they could not be more wrong. “The Emancipation Proclamation over the past 40 years has gotten a bad rap,” she said. “They are wrong – if for nothing else, it changed the morals of the war.”

Colman said that while many students are taught that the Confederacy seceded from the union and went to war over states’ rights, in her mind the war was about slavery. “This was very much a war about slavery – the Confederate government said so themselves,” she said. “The challenge is that memory and history are two different things, and heritage is another thing altogether.”

Colman said that, while for the north the war was originally about preserving the union, the proclamation changed the focus of those in the north. “This proclamation changed the moral character of the north,” she said. “This war was now about freedom, and Lincoln, who was an astute leader, realized this was going to be hard.” Colman said that although only 55,000 people were freed by the proclamation, most of them in the nation's capital, the proclamation impacted hundreds of thousands of people. “One hundred, eighty thousand people would don the uniform of the United States Army, and 20,000 more would join the Navy,” she said. “Five hundred thousand more former slaves came to the north as refugees. Slavery was dead.”

Randy Pranger, an English professor at the college who was on the discussion panel for the event, said that he saw the proclamation as a major turning point in history. “The Emancipation Proclamation is the single most important tipping point from Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama,” he said. “Lincoln laid down the foundation for future generations to build a world of equality.”

Katherine Kane, executive director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, said that the war had a deep connection with Connecticut. Kane said that Stowe wrote her most famous book, “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” based off events she had heard about from the south, including the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed the federal government and slave owners to arrest escaped slaves.

“Stowe saw the Fugitive Slave Act and in her suffering took up her pen and wrote ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin,’” Kane said. Kane compared Stowe to a rock star after her book sold more than a million copies in Europe. “Her readers would understand what it was like on an emotional level to be in bondage and not have control over their lives,” she said. “Many historians have said that she was a key factor in starting the Civil War.”


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