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(1863) Rev. Jonathan C. Gibbs, “Freedom's Joyful Day”

African Americans throughout the North held meetings and church services on January 1, 1863 to celebrate the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Almost always the festivities revolved around a central speaker. One of those speeches was delivered by Rev. Jonathan C. Gibbs, pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Gibbs studied at Dartmouth and Princeton Theological Seminary before assuming his pastorate and was active in the Underground Railroad and black convention movement in the 1850s. After the war, he served as a missionary to freedmen and women in North Carolina and Florida and as Floridas secretary of state, acting governor, and superintendent of public instruction. Rev. Gibbs’s speech appears below.

THE MORNING DAWNS! The long night of sorrow and gloom is past, rosy-fingered Aurora, early born of day, shows the first faint flush of her coming glory, low down on the distant horizon of Freedoms joyful day. O day, thrice blessed, that brings liberty to four million native-born Americans. O Liberty! O sacred rights of every human soul! O source of knowledge, of justice, of civilization, of Christianity, of strength, of power, bless us with the inspiration of thy presence. Today, standing on the broad platform of the common brotherhood of men, we solemnly appeal to the God of justice, our common Father, to aid us to meet manfully the new duties, the new obligations that this memorable day will surely impose. The Proclamation has gone forth, and God is saying to this nation by its legitimate constitute head, Man must be free.

Scout, deride, malign this intimation, as the enemies of God and man will and may, the American people must yield to His inscrutable fiat, or the legacy of their fathers will be squandered midst poverty, ignorance, blood and shame. The people must support this Proclamation, heartily, earnestly, strengthening the hands of our government by all the energies and resources they possess, or in a short time the question will not be whether black men are to be