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Emancipation Proclamation

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January 1, 1863

Decreed by President Abraham Lincoln on 1 January 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in all confederate states then at war with the Union “forever free” and made them eligible for paid military service in the Union Army.

In 1961 and 1962 Martin Luther King made multiple appeals to President John F. Kennedy to issue a second Emancipation Proclamation to outlaw segregation in commemoration of the centennial of the original document. A December 1961 telegram to Kennedy called for “a second Emancipation Proclamation to free all Negroes from second class citizenship” in line with the “defense of democratic principles and practices here” in the United States (King, 18 December 1961). On 17 May 1962, the sixth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, King sent Kennedy a 75-page appeal to request a “national rededication to the principles of the Emancipation Proclamation and for an executive order prohibiting segregation” (King, 17 May 1962). Clarence B. Jones, King’s legal advisor, recommended that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference send out copies of this appeal to all the major national organizations before 22 September 1962, the 100th anniversary of the earlier issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation as a military order.

At the 28 August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, he noted that the Emancipation Proclamation gave hope to black slaves. The following year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a concrete step toward fulfilling the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation.


King, An appeal to the Honorable John F. Kennedy, 17 May 1962, SCLCR-GAMK.

King, “I Have a Dream,” Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in A Call to Conscience, ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, “The Negro and the Constitution,” May 1944, in Papers 1:108–111.

King, William G. Anderson, and Ralph Abernathy to Kennedy, 17 December 1961, JFKWHCSF-MBJFK.