More than 80 years had passed before this day received its deserved recognition. National Freedom Day isn’t as familiar as other important calendar dates, but February 1 marks a profoundly significant event.
On that day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln finalized the resolution that later became our 13th Constitutional Amendment. America began to emerge from the darkness of Civil War and slavery was abolished.
The first day of February became a nationally recognized celebration of freedom for all Americans, through the efforts of a former slave.
Major Richard Robert Wright Sr. was a respected civil rights leader in the Philadelphia community, and he worked tirelessly for a day to commemorate the signing of the original resolution. Richard was a 10-year-old boy living in Georgia when he and his mother were set free by the 13th Amendment.
Through his unwavering efforts, the anniversary of the momentous signing was first observed in 1942; six years later, President Harry Truman laid his own signature to the bill that officially recognized our National Freedom Day.
Major Wright attended the inaugural ceremony, held at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, on that first February in 1942. A wreath was laid at the Liberty Bell in remembrance of the struggles and triumphs that culminated in President Lincoln’s historic signing.
Every year since, the wreath and the bell have symbolized the fundamental right to freedom that belongs to all Americans. The fact that Major Wright was a freed slave speaks eloquently to the sense of healing and acceptance we observe on this day.
We cannot imagine living in slavery and we never will, but thanks to the dedication and heart of a freedman in Philadelphia, we celebrate National Freedom Day with unity, reverence and pride.