Emancipation Proclamation celebration amid New Year’s revelry

FILE - Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, left, greets Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., after at an event sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Howard University to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — As many get ready Monday to celebrate New Year’s Eve by heading to parties around town, others will celebrate another way.

In African-American churches across the country, members are gathering to welcome in the new year.

The tradition — called Watch Night — dates back to when President Abraham Lincoln was set to sign the Emancipation Proclamation 156 years ago.

On the night before the proclamation went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, free blacks in the North, and enslaved women and men in the South, sat in churches throughout the night to find out if enslaved Africans were going to be legally free.

Lincoln kept his word as the Civil War continued.

Jan. 1 will mark the 400th anniversary of the first documented African slaves’ forced arrival on the shores of the United States.

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