On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the first of two executive orders known as the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a warning to the states that had seceded that in 100 days, he would free the slaves within their borders if they did not rejoin the union.
It wasn't exactly the definitive loosening of chains that abolitionists and the slaves themselves would have preferred. In fact, no slaves were freed.
"It was a preliminary move, giving those states 100 days before he would emancipate the slaves if they didn't come back into the union," said Yvonne Giles, a historian and chairman of the board of Lexington's Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum. "He was playing politics."
Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia, the border states, plus any state or any part of a state under the control of Union forces, were exempt.
Once they heard of the proclamation, slaves throughout the South flocked to Union lines whenever they could.
Sept. 22 has come to be known as a day to celebrate emancipation. But, according to Anne Butler, director of Kentucky State University's Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans, there have been a variety of emancipation day celebrations throughout the year, including June 12 in Bowling Green; the Juneteenth celebration on June 19 that began in Texas; on Jan. 1 at one time in Louisville and Lexington (that was the day in 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Lincoln); and Aug. 8, celebrated in Paducah.
Often, people don't remember why a particular date was selected. Giles thinks that should change.
On Sept. 19 and 20, there will be celebrations in Lexington for Emancipation Day. A luncheon on Sept. 19 will feature Velma Maia Thomas, an author, historian, journalist and minister from Atlanta.
Thomas wrote a series of books that chronicle the history of African-Americans from the transatlantic slave trade to the civil rights movement.
Her first book, Lest We Forget: The Passage From Africa to Slavery and Emancipation, is an interactive look at slavery through photographs, news clippings, drawings and copies of documents.
It is based on the Black Holocaust exhibit that she developed. It opened in Atlanta in 1991. The book has been praised for its many visual effects as well as its words.
"The whole journey began while I was managing the church bookstore," Thomas said from Atlanta.
When she started, the Shrine of the Black Madonna bookstore had several out-of-print books by black authors, she said. Intrigued, she sent out word that she was looking for more, and that's when she received word of two original slave documents, which were sent to her.
That became the beginnings of an exhibit that has traveled to other cities, including Detroit and Houston, where her church, Shrine of the Black Madonna, has affiliates.
She then put the exhibit into book form. It was published in 1997.
Since then, she has published Freedom's Children: The Passage From Emancipation to the Great Migration; No Man Can Hinder Me: The Journey from Slavery to Emancipation Through Song; and We Shall Not Be Moved.
"All the books have documents that can be pulled out and shown to young people," she said. "It is not real fancy, but it touches people deeply.
"This really happened to us as a people. What are we going to do now?"
Thomas will discuss aspects of that book and African-American history at the luncheon, beginning at noon at Portofino, 249 East Main Street, Lexington.
For reservations, send $50, which covers the luncheon and a book, to Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, P.O. Box 910036, Lexington, Ky. 40591. Proceeds will benefit the museum.
On Sept. 20, activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lexington History Center and Cheapside Park will include re-enactments of famous black Americans in history, poetry readings by Frank X Walker, a performance by the Kentucky State University Choir, and several opportunities to take Abraham Lincoln's Lexington Walking Tour.
For more information, call (859) 361-2813.