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Amherst honors Emancipation Proclamation’s 150 years with downtown ceremony

  • Amherst residents, clockwise from left, Andrea Battle, Judy Brooks, Akeme Hilton Mallory and Sonisai Loeung Rinehart, ring bells for five minutes to begin a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Amherst residents, clockwise from left, Andrea Battle, Judy Brooks, Akeme Hilton Mallory and Sonisai Loeung Rinehart, ring bells for five minutes to begin a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • On behalf of the town of Amherst, Select Board chairwoman Stephanie O'Keeffe, left, accepts from Robert Romer a proclamation he read by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Romer, of Amherst, helped organize Tuesday's celebration on the steps of the Town Hall.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    On behalf of the town of Amherst, Select Board chairwoman Stephanie O'Keeffe, left, accepts from Robert Romer a proclamation he read by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Romer, of Amherst, helped organize Tuesday's celebration on the steps of the Town Hall.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Robert Romer of Amherst reads a proclamation by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation during a celebration held on the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Robert Romer of Amherst reads a proclamation by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation during a celebration held on the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jacqui and Roger Wallace of Amherst joined about 100 others in reading aloud President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of Amherst Town Hall Tuesday during a celebration of the 150th anniversary of its signing.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Jacqui and Roger Wallace of Amherst joined about 100 others in reading aloud President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of Amherst Town Hall Tuesday during a celebration of the 150th anniversary of its signing.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Human Rights Director Deborah Radway and Human Rights Commission Chairman Reynolds Winslow stand atop the steps of Town Hall to ring bells and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Amherst Human Rights Director Deborah Radway and Human Rights Commission Chairman Reynolds Winslow stand atop the steps of Town Hall to ring bells and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on Tuesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks of Amherst attends a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks of Amherst attends a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • About 100 people gathered around the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation by ringings bells and then reading the document aloud.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    About 100 people gathered around the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation by ringings bells and then reading the document aloud.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Robert Romer of Amherst reads a proclamation by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation during a celebration held on the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Robert Romer of Amherst reads a proclamation by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation during a celebration held on the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst residents, clockwise from left, Andrea Battle, Judy Brooks, Akeme Hilton Mallory and Sonisai Loeung Rinehart, ring bells for five minutes to begin a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • On behalf of the town of Amherst, Select Board chairwoman Stephanie O'Keeffe, left, accepts from Robert Romer a proclamation he read by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Romer, of Amherst, helped organize Tuesday's celebration on the steps of the Town Hall.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Robert Romer of Amherst reads a proclamation by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation during a celebration held on the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Jacqui and Roger Wallace of Amherst joined about 100 others in reading aloud President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of Amherst Town Hall Tuesday during a celebration of the 150th anniversary of its signing.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Amherst Human Rights Director Deborah Radway and Human Rights Commission Chairman Reynolds Winslow stand atop the steps of Town Hall to ring bells and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks of Amherst attends a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • About 100 people gathered around the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation by ringings bells and then reading the document aloud.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Robert Romer of Amherst reads a proclamation by Governor Deval Patrick marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation during a celebration held on the steps of Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Amilcar Shabazz had a clear reason for bringing his 7-year-old son Hosea to Tuesday’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“I want him to learn from an early age about the institution of slavery and to acknowledge this step in the right direction,” said Shabazz, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts.

Hosea said it’s important to remember that some of his ancestors were slaves. “We should thank them because they helped fight for us to get our rights and the Emancipation Proclamation helped them,” he said.

About 100 people braved the cold and wind to mark the occasion in front of Amherst Town Hall Tuesday. At 2 p.m., the time when President Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation 150 years ago, church bells rang out in Amherst, Northampton, Hadley and many other communities.

The Civil War still had over two years to go when Lincoln signed the document. It declared that all slaves in the states in rebellion were “forever free” and affected an estimated 4 million people, energized abolitionists and lifted the spirits of African-Americans. Many slaves were not freed until Union soldiers arrived, but the proclamation encouraged many to escape bondage.

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said he came to Tuesday’s event to celebrate “that special day when we tore off the shackles of slavery.” It’s a reminder of how precious our rights are and how we have to fight for them, he said.

“Amherst and the Pioneer Valley understand how important civil rights are, and as DA, I’m the guardian of those rights,” he said.

Robert Romer, an organizer of the event, read a proclamation from Gov. Deval Patrick about the Emancipation Proclamation. He gave it to Stephanie O’Keeffe, who chairs the Select Board, and urged her to display it at Town Hall.

Lincoln’s action shows that “political will really can make a difference,” O’Keeffe said. “We really can make critical changes for the better.”

Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson rang the department’s “memorial bell” during the event.

Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks said she has on the wall of her Amherst residence a picture of her great-grandmother, who was a slave in Georgia. She recalled how important Jan. 1 was as a day of remembrance while she was growing up in Georgia.

John Bracey, who chairs the UMass Afro-American Studies Department, said that 50 years ago he probably wouldn’t have come to a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, because the struggle for equal rights was incomplete. Now, with President Obama reelected, he feels more comfortable marking this important step.

But Michael Burkart of Amherst said that despite the advances, African-Americans are still overrepresented in U.S. prisons and whites hold more wealth per capita. “Certain structures haven’t moved that much,” he said. “We should pay attention to the vestiges (of slavery) that are still here in economics and job opportunities.”

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