On Friday, Sept. 21, West Virginia University will sponsor a special program honoring abolitionists and opponents of slavery. The ceremony will involve reading the names of more than 450 abolitionists and opponents of slavery who, for more than a century before the Civil War, worked to end the institution in the United States.
The names will be read on the front steps of the Mountainlair beginning at 11:30 a.m. The program will last approximately 90 minutes. Students, faculty and other interested persons are invited to attend and to read from the list.
The reading of the names ceremony coincides with the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s announcement of his intention to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, would eventually lead to the freeing of more than four million enslaved African Americans in the South, ending 400 years of slavery in this country. More than 100 years of work by American abolitionists and anti-slavery activists paved the way for Lincoln’s announcement.
This is the first time such a ceremony has taken place and the first time the names of men and women abolitionists and opponents of slavery will be read in a public setting. The purpose of the program is to raise awareness of the movement to end slavery in America, which began even before the American Revolution. Originator of the program, historian Eric Saul, and his volunteers researched the anti-slavery movement, consulting numerous primary and secondary historic sources to generate the list of names.
“We have even pored over the original rosters of abolitionist groups, such as the American Anti-Slavery Society,” Saul said. “It is very important to point out that African Americans were involved in the anti-slavery movement from its earliest days and took a pivotal role in organizing the movement.”
The story of the movement to end slavery in America is very complex, he said. Opponents of slavery came from all walks of life, occupations and political, social and religious backgrounds. Many groups and individuals differed on the approach to ending slavery in the country. Estimates are that there were more than 250,000 Americans in 500 different organizations involved in the anti-slavery movement by 1840. Not all individuals who were against slavery had the same motives. Some opponents of slavery wanted an immediate end to the practice, some wanted a gradual decrease and some people only wanted to prevent the expansion of slavery to new states and territories as they came into the Union.
“It is my hope to inspire young people to take up the cause of social justice and to inspire them to do good things,” Saul explained. “We reinforce the notion that everyday people, if inspired, can do extraordinary things.”
Saul says the event is about remembering and expressing gratitude to past abolitionists.
In addition to the Sept. 21 event, a small group of students and faculty will travel to the Antietam battlefield on Saturday, Sept. 22, to read the names of abolitionist heroes at the actual site of the Union victory.
For more information, contact Dr. Fiske at Amy.Fiske@mail.wvu.edu or Eric Saul, program coordinator, at 304-906-1292.
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