Recently, on three most-frigid days I saw a line of waiting people that had formed around the perimeter of the National Archives building in Washington, DC.
This isn’t a common site, except on the 4th of July, and I mistakenly pointed out to my curious in-laws (who were visiting from their home country) how Americans would stand for hours, in below freezing weather, waiting for a glimpse of our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and other important historical US documents. I later had to amend that statement when I realized we had, unfortunately, missed the incredibly rare opportunity of viewing the Emancipation Proclamation on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the document which freed slaves of the confederacy. This document led to the creation of the 13th amendment which abolished all slavery throughout the US, two years later, in 1865. One can find just about any document online but it never compares to seeing an original, standing in the same place where the writer and signer(s) stood and being tugged back into history to a specific place and time.
This year is also the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg (in July) and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (in November). The battle of Gettysburg did not end the war but it is considered by many as a turning point which placed the union/US in position to eventually “win” the war and defeat the southern confederacy so the states could be reunited. One hundred and fifty years later, with so many advancements and changes, one would assume the American Civil War would be ancient history only to be thought of on major anniversaries or when looking at family histories. It seems to depend on where one has lived. I have never, ever heard anyone from a northern location mention the civil war. Rarely does an occasion pass when the civil war is not mentioned among southerners.
The anniversaries remind us of more difficult times of war and unequal rights and oppression. I am also reminded that with all the tremendous changes in our country we have not come as far as we should have after the passing of so many years. Our country, which I love, still struggles with issues of inequality and is still engaged in wars. We are still seeking, as Lincoln stated in his second inaugural address in 1865, to “achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations”.
Gettysburg National Park