Tuesday marked the 204th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Our 16th president, the highlights of Lincoln’s life are known to even the youngest schoolchildren - and are now the subject of a blockbuster Steven Spielberg movie that’s been nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. President Lincoln was born in a log cabin. He had little formal schooling and was self-taught in the practice of law. He freed the slaves and preserved the Union during the U.S. Civil War. Tragically, his life was cut short at 56 years of age when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of one of President Lincoln’s most famous acts - the Emancipation Proclamation - issued on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are and henceforward shall be free." While his proclamation did not entirely end slavery in the U.S., it moved the hearts and minds of Americans and transformed the character of the War Between the States. From this time on, southern movement of Union forces expanded the domain of freedom; and as the Proclamation allowed black men to join the Union Army and Navy it enabled the liberated to sign on to become liberators. Nearly 200,000 black men had joined the Union forces and the fight for freedom by the end of the Civil War.
Not coincidentally, February also marks National African American History Month. Originally recognized as Negro History Week, the event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, a former slave and leader in the abolition movement. In 1976, the celebration was expanded to a month by President Ford who urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
Among those accomplished African Americans to call Orange County home was the painter Horace Pippin who grew up in Goshen. A self-taught painter, subjects of Pippin’s early works included the horses and jockeys from the racetrack in Goshen. The injustice of slavery and segregation were among the subjects of later work. Pippin made his national debut in a traveling exhibition prepared by the Museum of Modern Art. His work can still be found in renowned museums like Washington DC’s Hirshorn Museum and the Phillips Collection, as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
African American residents whose family tree takes root here in Orange County can learn more about their descendants by visiting the Orange County Genealogical Society (OCGS), located at the 1841 Courthouse in Goshen. Robert Brennan, former president of the OCGS, has completed a seven volume collection of the "Genealogical History of Blacks in Orange County." His findings include information on the Underground Railroad, black veterans of the American Revolution, and immigration trends. The collection is available at the Society offices.
For more information and hours, visit their website at www.ocgsny.org. Keep in mind, the OCGS is a great resource for anyone interested in tracing their family tree here in Orange County.
Please join me this month in recognizing the accomplishments and history of those African Americans who helped shape our Nation, State, and County.
Until next week, I wish you good health and happiness.