Reading the Emancipation Proclamation. Photo Credit: © New York Public Library Digital Collections.

United States – Emancipation Proclamation

United States President, Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation or Proclamation 95 which (legally) freed the enslaved. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” From the first days of the Civil War, enslaved Africans had acted to secure their own liberty.

The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union, both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.

However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not instantly free any enslaved people. The proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. Within some cases, enslavers withheld this information until after harvest season — celebrations broke out among newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born. That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.



  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Reading the Emancipation Proclamation.” New York Public Library Digital Collections.