Civil War 150: Emancipation and the March on Washington

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, our country saw little change in the way of African-American rights. The addition of the Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 was meant to solidify rights and abolish slavery for good, but selective enforcement and race-based discrimination continued to prevent African Americans from achieving all they deserved. One-hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, America’s race issues came front-and-center with the March on Washington—a peaceful protest advocating for the rights and privileges that had been promised by the Thirteenth Amendment.

More than 50 years ago, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and began his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he begged the country to make note of the past and mold a brighter future for all Americans.

Lincoln Memorial taken by Theodor Horydczak approximately 1890-1971. Library of Congress image.

King evoked sentiments from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and referenced the Emancipation Proclamation. His speech inspired the quarter of a million people present who had marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, and countless others, to work together and envision a world where all Americans would truly be equal.

In 2013, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This separation in time reminds us of Dr. King’s quote: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, visitors can now view a temporary exhibit examining these two milestones—their parallels, successes, faults and lasting legacy on American history. If you are visiting the D.C. area anytime though September of 2014, it is highly recommended that you take the time to see it.

Connie Golding earned a bachelor’s degree in History with a minor in Fine Arts from The George Washington University.