Many of us have heard of Watch Night, but have you heard of Freedom Eve? I recently stumbled upon an article about the origin of Watch Night services in Black churches.
Watch Night or Freedom Eve began December 31, 1862, when enslaved people gathered together to wait for the new year, and for the Emancipation Proclamation to become law. That Watch Night was like no other ushering in of the another year.
Usually, the beginning of a new year was dreaded by the enslaved. It was customary for owners of the enslaved to tally their property at the end of the year. Owners often sold off the enslaved to pay off their debts. So, on New Year’s Eve the enslaved gathered to spend what could be their last night together with their loved ones.
Let’s go back to Freedom Eve and try to imagine the emotions that many of our ancestors must have felt that night. Fear would have been mixed with the excitement that they would finally be free from abuse, torture, rape, exhaustion, and hopelessness. Fear of what freedom would bring to a people that did not know the world that laid outside the plantations that they were imprisoned in. Most did not have family members that they could draw strength from. Imagine being alone in a hostile world where you could not read, write and were penniless.
The dawn of the new year found many of the enslaved in the same condition as they were the day before, except the world around them had changed. The formerly enslaved were free to exist without benefit of an education, money, or protection from the people that once owned them.
The formerly enslaved were not citizens until 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. Slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment which was ratified by the states on December 6, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to Slave State that participated in the rebellion. Border States that owned slaves were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation was a way to shorten the war by taking the enemies resources it did not abolish slavery.
This Watch Night will find the descendants of the enslaved gathering together with loved one eager to say goodbye to 2021 and hoping that 2022 will be better. Freedom is not even a thought for most of us, because we know that we are not free. Abolishment of Slavery without reparation, and the truthful teaching of the history of the United States of America is not freedom for descendants of both the enslaved and owners of the enslaved.