Celebrating National Freedom Day

February 1 gives us many reasons to celebrate.

Imbolc, the Celtic pagan holiday celebrated February 1 and 2, marks the mid-point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. And February 1 is the first day of Chinese New Year, the year of the tiger.

February 1 is also National Freedom Day. Have you ever heard of it? Me neither, but I plan to start celebrating it now that I have. Feb 1, 1865 was the day President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. The amendment was ratified by the states on December 18 of that year.

Richard R. Wright, Sr. public domain image

The holiday was created by a former slave named Major Richard Robert Wright, Sr. The man was a committed community builder who founded a college and a bank. Born into slavery in Georgia in 1855, after the Civil War ended he moved with his mother to Atlanta where he enrolled in the Storrs School, the forerunner of Atlanta University. In 1876 he married Lydia Elizabeth Howard, who bore nine children. Wright was the first African American paymaster in the U.S. Army (appointed by President McKinley). As a major he was the highest ranking Black officer during the Spanish American War.

In 1948, the year after Wright’s death, Congress passed and President Harry Truman signed into law a bill to make February 1 National Freedom Day. It later became Black History Day. This gave impetus to national recognition for Black History Week and, in 1976, Black History Month.

Wright envisioned National Freedom Day as a day for “all Americans” to celebrate our freedom. President Harry Truman, Major Richard Robert Wright Sr. and the U.S. Congress saw America itself as a symbol of freedom.

The arc of the moral universe is a lot longer than I had thought and I’m not convinced it bends toward justice without a lot of help. As we now lose freedoms we fought for in our own lifetimes — the freedom to vote, women’s freedom to control reproduction, the freedom to live without fear of fascism — let’s celebrate National Freedom Day by appreciating the freedoms we do enjoy and joining the fight to regain freedoms lost.

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