Southampton honors the Emancipation Proclamation

The Village of Southampton honored President Lincoln's signing The Village of Southampton honored President Lincoln's signing into law of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. (Jan. 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Gloria Primm Brown went to Southampton on Saturday to pay tribute to her ancestors, who once toiled as slaves on Southern plantations.

Primm Brown, 71, of Sag Harbor, stood on the steps of First Presbyterian Church on Main Street, one of about 80 people who gathered to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln, declaring the freedom of millions of slaves.

"It is important to celebrate this," Primm Brown said. "They fought for their freedom."

The event, sponsored by Southampton Village and local businesses, museums and churches, celebrated the landmark executive order issued during the height of the Civil War.

Speakers reflected on the document's impact on history, culminating in the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

"No, it didn't end slavery; no, it didn't free the slaves, but it laid a foundation for these things to happen," said Natalie Byfield, an assistant professor at St. John's University in Queens.

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"In much the same way, I think of the election of Barack Obama," she said. "It made a foundation for the development of a much more multicultural society."

Saturday's event featured the ringing of bells outside the church, a community gathering and a roundtable discussion at the Southampton Historical Museum, followed by live jazz, poetry and food.

Brenda Simmons, director of The African American Museum of the East End and an event organizer, remembered going to church in Southampton every New Year's Eve for the Watch Night service.

The first service was Dec. 31, 1862 -- the night before Lincoln issued his proclamation. Throughout the South, slaves gathered in churches, anxiously awaiting the news, Simmons said.

Tom Edmonds, executive director of the Southampton Historical Museum, said the event appeared to be a success.

"Everyone had a wonderful time and were saying, 'Let's do it again next year,' " he said.

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