RICHMOND, VA (WTVR) -Every September 17th school children across the country are asked to reflect on the nation’s supreme law, as a part of Constitution Day. This year, however, one of Richmond’s leading educators and top academics is asking for Americans to place special focus on a different document, released more than 75 years later.
Today University of Richmond President Ed Ayers will take part in a panel titled “Emancipation Nation: Celebrating Freedom on Constitution Day.” Taking place just days ahead of the 150th anniversary of the initial issuance of The Emancipation Proclamation, a panel of historians will recreate the national scene and the dilemmas facing Americans on September 22, 1862, without drawing on their knowledge of what would unfold over the next few months and years.
“By restoring a sense of the drama and the openness of this, it makes it more interesting and meaningful,” Ayers tells CS 6 of the event. “You never know how things are going to turn out, so you better pay attention.”
Ayers says he hopes the event will provide the anniversary with a much needed platform.
“It’s interesting that we seem to have forgotten this a little bit, when I believe this is the most important thing that has happened in history,” Ayers said. “The end of perpetual bondage for 4 million people. You think about other things that we celebrate and have national holidays for, it doesn’t seem to make sense.”
The Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1863 and effectively freed slaves in the 10 states in rebellion during the Civil War–among them Virginia. According to Ayers, the proclamation didn’t have a bigger impact anywhere else than in Richmond.
“Here in Richmond where the slave trade was such a huge part of the antebellum economy, for slavery to be gone, it marked a very visible change in the city,” Ayers said.
“I think it’s one of the reasons Steven Spielberg came here to do the movie about Lincoln. This is the one place Lincoln came where he could be surrounded by the formerly enslaved people who became free and he could see what emancipation looks like.”
The discussion is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. It will be live streamed on the NEH website.
Viewing parties are being held throughout the country.
Locally, a viewing part is being held at the Virginia Historical Society.
Located at: 428 N Boulevard Richmond, VA 23220
A second viewing party is being held on the University of Richmond Campus, in the Tyler Hanes Commons.