The year 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of many key events of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of crucial moments of the Civil Rights Movement. In many ways these are inextricably linked because civil rights demonstrators drew inspiration from the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation was 100 years old in 1963, and the feeling was that a century was long enough to continue being patient.
Emancipation Proclamation. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln and taking effect as a war measure on Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves but only in states that were in rebellion against the Union. Still, the proclamation gave a greater purpose for the Civil War, that of ending slavery as well as preserving the Union.
Battle of Gettysburg. Taking place between July 1-3, 1863, Gettysburg marked the turning point of the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee advanced into Pennsylvania, his deepest penetration into the North during the war. The three-day battle saw catastrophic casualty numbers on both sides and it ended in the retreat of Lee out of the North. He would never again lead his troops into Northern territory.
Battle of Vicksburg. Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, ended successfully on July 4, 1863, Independence Day. The subsequent surrender of Port Hudson, Louisiana, to Union troops on July 8 meant the Mississippi River was now totally controlled by Union forces.
Gettysburg Address. On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln traveled to the battleground at Gettysburg to take part in a dedication of a National Cemetery. Edward Everett, the principal speaker of the day, droned on for two hours. Then it was Lincoln’s turn to speak. In his brief remarks Lincoln redefined the meaning and purpose of the United States, and his speech eventually becomes one of the most admired and celebrated addresses ever given.
President John Kennedy assassinated. Almost exactly 100 years after the Gettysburg Address, Kennedy is gunned down in Dallas, TX, on Nov. 22, 1963. Earlier in the year, in June, Kennedy had given a major TV address in which he framed the Negro struggle as a moral issue. He proposed major civil rights legislation to Congress, which failed to act upon it before his death.
March on Washington. On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led 250,000 racially integrated marchers to the Lincoln Memorial, the largest protest gathering up to that point in U.S. history. It was there King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. His speech stands alongside the Gettysburg Address as two of the greatest given by leaders in America.
Governor George C. Wallace blocks school door. After promising “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” in his 1963 inaugural speech, Alabama Gov. Wallace tries to block the entrance to the administration building at the University of Alabama in order to prevent two qualified black students from enrolling. However, National Guardsmen sent by President Kennedy ensure the two students could attend the school.
Medgar Evers gunned down. NAACP field secretary and civil rights leader Medgar Evers is assassinated at his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
The events of 1963 are in many ways a continuation of the battles of 1863. The commemoration of the 50th and 150th anniversaries of these dates should be looked at not as separate occurrences but as the same struggle for African American rights and inclusion in America.
“The Bicentennial Almanac, 200 Years of America,” edited by Calvin Linton, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1975
“Timelines of African-American History,” Tom Cowan and Jack Maguire, Perigee Books, 1994