This lesson includes an invitation to an emancipation celebration, a photo of emancipation oak, a transcript, and an excerpted transcript of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Dates and Eras 1862, 1863, 1864
Themes African Americans, Families, Emancipation, Homefront
Grades 5–7
Standards VS.7 USI.9 VUS.7; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1


A colorized historical photograph.

Historical Context

The American Civil War did not begin as a war to end slavery. However, through the actions of several Americans, it gradually became one. Abolitionists, free African-Americans, and antislavery members of Congress had long been pushing for the end of slavery. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln spoke of the immorality of slavery, having campaigned against its expansion. Still, he was hesitant to make any move that would cause the Border States to leave the Union. Lincoln also knew that he did not have the authority to do away with an institution protected by the U.S. Constitution.

On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that would go into effect on January 1, 1863. Having no actual authority to end slavery, Lincoln, as commander-in-chief, used his power to seize enemy property to strike a blow against slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation strengthened the Union cause by adding a moral purpose to the war, weakening the labor force upon which the South relied, and limiting the chance of foreign recognition of the Confederacy.

People reacted in various ways to the Emancipation Proclamation. Many Northerners felt that the proclamation had changed the reason for the war from preserving the Union to ending slavery. This made abolitionists rejoice, but others upset. Some U.S. soldiers deserted, not wanting to risk their lives to free people they only thought of as slaves. Enslaved African-Americans faced the difficult decision of acting on the proclamation, while African-Americans in free states realized the fight for equality still lay ahead. White Southerners felt even more justified in their decision to leave the Union and feared the proclamation might incite enslaved people to violence. Confederate leaders were angered by the prospect of the Union government arming slaves.

The document featured here, an invitation to an Emancipation celebration, was part of the Museum’s collection. Use it to explore one perspective of emancipation.

Suggested Questions

1. Who wrote this invitation and to who was it addressed?
2. Why did Monroe Robinson have to leave his mark?
3. Why do you think someone else wrote the invitation to him?
4. What do you find significant about this invitation?

Suggested Activities

1. Show students the photograph of the Emancipation oak, which stands near the entrance of the Hampton University campus. Early in 1863, African Americans gathered beneath it to hear that they would be “thenceforward and forever free.”This was reputedly the site of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South. Have students write a journal entry from the perspective of the tree, witnessing history. To learn more about witness trees, visit the NPS Manassas site. Have your students locate witness trees in your area.

2. Have students write their own interpretations/reviews of the Emancipation Proclamation in an elegantly written essay. Require students to cite specific textual evidence to support their analysis and claims. Students will demonstrate their ability to use primary sources and communicate their own ideas.

3. With the use of the picture (Emancipation of the slaves, proclamed [i.e. proclaimed] on the 22nd September 1862, by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of North America) have the students write a 1-2 paragraph reflection on the importance of the image and how it relates to the Emancipation Proclamation.