What is National Freedom Day?

For most of us, flipping the calendar to February simply means starting another month. But in 1865, February 1was the extraordinary beginning of a whole new era.  That was the day President Lincoln signed the resolution to outlaw slavery.

This resolution became the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the first new amendment to be adopted in more than 60 years.

Those of you who saw Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln might be familiar with the story, but read on to see how National Freedom Day fits in.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 

These were life-changing words for people like Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave who went on to become a successful businessman and community leader in Philadelphia, and founder of the National Freedom Association. Wright hoped to have a day dedicated to celebrating freedom for all Americans. He gathered local and national leaders to write a bill declaring February 1 as National Freedom Day and in 1948, President Harry Truman made it official.

So, how do people celebrate National Freedom Day?

While it’s not a public holiday (banks and post offices are open), the purpose is to promote good feelings, harmony and equality…and, of course, to appreciate freedom.  Across the nation, there are local celebrations from luncheons to literature meetings. And it’s a beautiful day to see wreath-laying at the Liberty Bell.

If you want to celebrate Hollywood-style, and still haven’t seen Lincoln, now is the time to check it out. Not only is the film Oscar-worthy (nominated for a whopping twelve awards), but it’s also educational. Lincoln showcases the hard-fought struggle over the passing of the 13th Amendment and focuses on this key part of our constitutional history that many of us didn’t learn in school (or can’t remember, because Mr. Spielberg wasn’t our teacher).

So, Happy National Freedom Day…and Happy February! Hopefully, the beginning of this month will always remind you of that bright new beginning back in 1865, when unexpected heroes like Major Wright finally got a taste of the gift that still deserves to be celebrated today: sweet freedom.