Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Watch Night 2008

I'm reading Giants, by John Stauffer - subtitled "The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln." It's beautifully researched and written and, you know, right up my alley. With only 6 paragraphs of the 314 page book mentioning Helen, and a kind inscription by Stauffer (thanks to my sister in law) wishing me luck on my book, it's got pride of place in my office.

I'm reading the section now on December 1862...the final days before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was to take effect, freeing slaves throughout the Union and rebel territory. Abolitionists and blacks, including Douglass, feared against hope that Lincoln would lack the courage to see his bold initiative through. So on December 31st they gathered at churches and prayed through the night.
Over three thousand black and white abolitionists met at the Temple [Tremont Temple, a Baptist church in Boston] in the morning...Throughout the day there were numerous short speeches and music but no announcement of the final emancipation decree. Douglass wrapped up the afternoon session by saying that this moment represented a sharp break from the sins of the past. "We have had a period of darkness, but are now having the dawn of light, and are met today to celebrate it."

Suffice it to say, Lincoln was good to his word (though waited past 11 pm to finalize it and nearly gave Douglass a heart attack in the process.)And African Americans still celebrate "Watch Night" as a means of ushering out the old and hoping for the new.

I read Douglass' words with fresh hope last night because in 2008, they sound just as meaningful. Even with Bush gutting the Endangered Species Act on his way out the door, and the black hole of the economy making it hard to see, we sense we're on the brink of something new, a dawn of a new kind of government. I hope that your New Year's Eve celebration gives you a chance to say adieu to the darkness and prepare yourself for the hard work (and promise) that lies ahead.

Happy New Year!

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