National Freedom Day

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National Freedom Day

Date Observed: February 1
Location: Communities nationwide

National Freedom Day commemorates the day in 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery in the United States. In 1948 President Harry S. Truman issued a presidential proclamation calling for the observance of National Freedom Day. Fifty years later, Congress entered February 1, National Freedom Day, into the U.S. Code of laws as an official national and patriotic observance.

Historical Background

President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on February 1, 1865. It reads as follows:


Section 1.

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.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.

Note: A portion of Article IV, section 2, of the Constitution was superseded by the 13th amendment.

Freedom days or Emancipation Day celebrations to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States have been held on a variety of dates. In some states, emancipation is celebrated on June 19th or Juneteenth, the date when slaves in Texas learned of their freedom. Kentucky also commemorates Juneteenth National Freedom Day each year. Other states hold freedom days on January 1 to mark the date when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863. Some celebrate September 22, the day in 1862 that Lincoln issued the preliminary proclamation. Washington, D.C. observes Emancipation Day on April 16 because that was the date slaves were freed in the district.

Creation of the Observance

The first Freedom Day celebration took place on February 1, 1942, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where a wreath was placed at the base of the Liberty Bell. But it was not yet an official observance.

Former slave Richard Robert Wright Sr. (1855-1947) spent many years attempting to establish a National Freedom Day on February 1. Wright, along with his mother and two siblings were freed after the Civil War. He became a teacher, principal, college president, publisher, and banker. He also attained the rank of major during service in the 1898 Spanish-American War fought in Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

Wright believed February 1 was the true emancipation day, because it was the date Lincoln signed the proposed 13th Amendment. In 1948, a year after Wright's death, President Truman signed a bill stating that "The President may issue each year a proclamation designating February 1 as National Freedom Day to commemorate the signing by Abraham Lincoln on February 1, 1865, of the joint resolution adopted by the Senate and the House of Representatives that proposed the 13th amendment to the Constitution." In subsequent years, various governors and all mayors of Philadelphia have issued proclamations designating February 1 as National Freedom Day.

On August 12, 1998, the U.S. Congress designated February 1 as National Freedom Day to be an annual national and patriotic observance.


A notable National Freedom Day celebration takes place in Philadelphia. Ceremonies are held at Independence Hall, near where the Liberty Bell is housed. There may be speeches, choral groups singing "We Shall Overcome," and other public presentations emphasizing liberty and the role of Richard Robert Wright Sr. in establishing National Freedom Day.

In public schools, it is common to observe National Freedom Day on the first day of African-American History Month in February. Students take part in activities focusing on such topics as the Bill of Rights, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the history of the abolitionist movement.

Contacts and Web Sites

Independence Hall Visitor Center 143 S. Third St. Philadelphia, PA 19106 215-965-2305; fax: 215-597-1548

"National Freedom Day: A Local Legacy" Library of Congress

Further Reading

Morris, Robert C. "Wright, Richard Robert, Sr." In African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Patton, June O. "'And the truth shall make you free': Richard Robert Wright, Sr., Black Intellectual and Iconoclast, 1877-1897. (Vindicating the Race: Contributions to AfricanAmerican Intellectual History)." The Journal of Negro History, January 1996. Wiggins, William H., Jr. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007

Freedom Day, National

February 1
National Freedom Day commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States. On that date in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, making slavery illegal. The purpose of the day is to celebrate the freedom from slavery for all people and to acknowledge the importance of freedom and harmony in American society. Freedom Day is not a federal holiday. Government offices and banks are open for business.
Freedom Day was conceived by U.S. Army Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave who was a distinguished officer, educator, civil rights activist, and banking entrepreneur. He worked hard to have Freedom Day recognized as a holiday. In 1948, President Harry Truman signed a bill declaring February 1 as National Freedom Day. However, over the years, there have been few formal observances. In fact, a strong drive is underway to adopt June 19, or JUNETEENTH, as it is known, as the American holiday to celebrate the end of slavery. This was the date in 1865 when news reached slaves in Texas—two and a half years after the fact—that Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The traditional Texan celebration of the day was revived in recent years and has spread nationwide. Many would like to see it replace February 1 as the national holiday to mark slavery's demise.
U.S. Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20540
Juneteenth World-Wide Celebration
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month (, culminating in the celebration of National Freedom Day (February 1).
1 is celebrated as National Freedom Day to commemorate the day on which former President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 approved a joint resolution of Congress that would lead to the 13th Amendment to the U.S.
The Royal Golf Club, in association with Moments & Memories, is hosting a South African Family Festival at the club on April 21 in celebration of its food and culture while marking the country's National Freedom Day. The event is open to all and will feature a variety of activities and live entertainment.
Prosecutor Hanneke Ekelman said the police would not be joining in with yesterday's national Freedom Day celebrations which mark the country's liberation from the Nazis.
Supreme Court; National Freedom Day (commemorates passing of 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery).
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, culminating in the celebration of National Freedom Day (February 1).
National Freedom Day is neither as widely celebrated as July 4th nor is a public or federal holiday, but it holds great significance for millions of people who are descendants of American slaves.

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