- Created on 02 January 2013
(AP) — As New Year's Day approached 150 years ago, all eyes were on President Abraham Lincoln in expectation of what he warned 100 days earlier would be coming — his final proclamation declaring all slaves in states rebelling against the Union to be "forever free."
A tradition began Dec. 31, 1862, as many black churches held Watch Night services, awaiting word that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation would take effect amid a bloody Civil War. Later, congregations listened as the president's historic words were read aloud.
The proclamation would not end slavery outright and at the time couldn't be enforced by Lincoln in areas under Confederate control. But the president made clear from that day forward that his forces would be fighting to bring the Union back together without the institution of slavery.
Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, announcing that if rebel states did not cease fighting and rejoin the Union by Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves in rebellious states or parts of states would be declared free from that date forward.
This year, the Watch Night tradition will follow the historic document to its home at the National Archives with a special midnight display planned with readings, songs and bell ringing among the nation's founding documents.
The official document bears Lincoln's signature and the United States seal, setting it apart from copies and drafts. It will make a rare public appearance from Sunday to Tuesday — New Year's Day — for thousands of visitors to mark its anniversary. On New Year's Eve, the display will remain open past midnight as 2013 arrives.
"We will be calling back to an old tradition," said U.S. Archivist David Ferriero, noting the proclamation's legacy. "When you see thousands of people waiting in line in the dark and cold ... we know that they're not there just for words on paper.
"On this 150th anniversary, we recall those who struggled with slavery in this country, the hope that sustained them and the inspiration the Emancipation Proclamation has given to those who seek justice."
The National Archives allows 100 visitors at a time into its rotunda, where the Emancipation Proclamation will be displayed along with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. On the busiest days, 8,000 people file through for a glimpse of the founding charters.
Performances and re-enactments are scheduled to continue throughout New Year's Day. The U.S. Postal Service will unveil a new Emancipation Proclamation stamp as well.
This special display is just one of many commemorations planned in Washington and in churches nationwide to mark the anniversary of Lincoln's actions to end slavery and end the Civil War.
President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington, where the 16th president spent much of his time and where he began drafting the proclamation, is displaying a signed copy of the document through February. It also will host its own New Year's Eve celebration.
The Library of Congress will display the first draft handwritten by Lincoln. It will be on display for six weeks beginning Jan. 3 in the library's exhibit, "The Civil War in America," which features many personal letters and diaries from the era.
Also, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture just opened its newest exhibition, "Changing America," to recount the 1863 emancipation of slaves and the 1963 March on Washington for Civil Rights. It includes a rare signed copy of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that ultimately abolished slavery.
The Watch Night tradition also continues at many sites Monday night.
In Washington, the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, where abolitionist Frederick Douglass was a member, will host a special 150th anniversary service.
History lovers say this is a chance to remember what the Emancipation Proclamation actually signified.
Lincoln wrote in part: "I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward, shall be free."
He went on to say the military would recognize the freedom of slaves, that freed slaves should avoid violence and that freed slaves could enlist in the U.S. armed forces. It did not immediately free a single slave, though, because Lincoln didn't have the power to enforce the declaration in the Confederacy. Still, many slaves had already been freeing themselves, and the document gave them protection, said Reginald Washington, an archivist of African-American history at the National Archives.
"It was a first, important step in paving the way for the abolishment of slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment," he said.
It also brought "a fundamental change in the character of the war," Washington said. "With the stroke of Lincoln's pen, a war to preserve the union had overnight become a war of human liberation."
The proclamation became a symbol of hope for nearly 4 million slaves and a confirmation that the war should be fought to secure their freedom, said Washington, who is retiring from the Archives after nearly 40 years. Some historians and scholars have come to view to proclamation as one of the most important documents in U.S. history.
The final proclamation has been rarely shown because it was badly damaged decades ago by long exposure to light. After it was signed at the White House, it was kept at the State Department for many years with other presidential proclamations. In 1936, it was transferred to the National Archives.
Records show it was displayed between 1947 and 1949 in a "Freedom Train" exhibit that traveled the country. Then it was shown briefly in January 1963 to mark the 100th anniversary of its signing.
It wasn't until 1993 that the Emancipation Proclamation has been shown more regularly to the public. In the past decade, it has been shown in 10 other museums and libraries nationwide for no more than three days at a time to limit its exposure to light. A 2011 exhibition at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., that was open around the clock drew lines amounting to eight-hour waits to see the document.
Conservators rotate which of the five pages are shown to limit their light exposure. In Washington, they will display pages two and five, which is Lincoln's signature page. High-quality copies are shown in place of the other original pages.
"It's rarely shown, and that's part of our strategy for preserving it and making it accessible," said Catherine Nicholson, an archives conservator. "Our goal is to keep its current condition so that it can be enjoyed not only by people today, but by future generations."
- Created on 31 December 2012
(AP) — Recalling the shooting rampage that killed 20 first graders as the worst day of his presidency, President Barack Obama pledged to put his "full weight" behind legislation aimed at preventing gun violence.
Obama voiced skepticism about the National Rifle Association's proposal to put armed guards in schools following the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The president made his comments Saturday in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Instead, the president vowed to rally the American people around an agenda to limit gun violence, adding that he still supports increased background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines. He left no doubt it will be one of his top priorities next year.
"It is not enough for us to say, 'This is too hard so we're not going to try,'" Obama said.
"I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can't have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that this individual in Newtown obtained and gun down our kids," he added. "And, yes, it's going to be hard."
The president added that he's ready to meet with Republicans and Democrats, anyone with a stake in the issue.
The schoolhouse shootings, coming as families prepared for the holidays, have elevated the issue of gun violence to the forefront of public attention. Six adult staff members were also killed at the elementary school. Shooter Adam Lanza committed suicide, apparently as police closed in. Earlier, he had killed his mother at the home they shared.
The tragedy immediately prompted calls for greater gun controls. But the NRA is strongly resisting those efforts, arguing instead that schools should have armed guards for protection. Some gun enthusiasts have rushed to buy semiautomatic rifles of the type used by Lanza, fearing sales may soon be restricted.
Obama seemed unimpressed by the NRA proposal. "I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools," he said. "And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem."
The president said he intends to press the issue with the public.
"The question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away," Obama said. "It certainly won't feel like that to me. This is something that - you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it's not something that I want to see repeated."
Separately, a member of the president's cabinet said Sunday that rural America may be ready to join a national conversation about gun control. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the debate has to start with respect for the Second Amendment right to bear arms and recognition that hunting is a way of life for millions of Americans.
But Vilsack said Newtown has changed the way people see the issue. "I really believe that this is a different circumstance and a different situation," Vilsack said on CNN.
Vilsack said he thinks it's possible for Americans to come together. "It's potentially a unifying conversation," he said. "The problem is that these conversations are always couched in the terms of dividing us. This could be a unifying conversation, and Lord knows we need to be unified."
Besides passing gun violence legislation, Obama also listed deficit reduction and immigration as top priorities for 2013. A big deficit reduction deal with Republicans proved elusive this month, and Obama is now hoping Senate Democratic and Republican leaders salvage a scaled-back plan that avoids tax increases for virtually all Americans.
In addition, he issued a defense of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has been mentioned as one of the leading candidates to replace Leon Panetta as defense secretary.
Hagel supported the 2002 resolution approving U.S. military action in Iraq, but later became a critic of the war. He has been denounced by some conservatives for not being a strong enough ally of Israel. Also, many liberals and gay activists have banded against him for comments he made in 1998 about an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship.
Obama, who briefly served with Hagel in the Senate, stressed that he had yet to make a decision but called Hagel a "patriot."
Hagel "served this country with valor in Vietnam," the president said. "And (he) is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."
Obama noted that Hagel had apologized for his 14-year-old remark on gays.
- Created on 27 December 2012
CHICAGO (AP) — It was February, the middle of lunch hour on a busy South Side street. The gunman approached his victim in a White Castle parking lot, shot him in the head, then fled down an alley.
The next month, one block away, also on West 79th Street: Two men in hooded sweatshirts opened fire at the Bishop Golden convenience store. They killed one young man and wounded five others, including a nephew of basketball superstar Dwyane Wade. The shooters got away in a silver SUV.
In July, a Saturday night, two men were walking on 79th when they were approached by a man who killed one and injured the other. This shooting resulted in a quick arrest; police had a witness, and a security camera caught the shooting.
These three violent snapshots of a single Chicago street are not exceptional. It's been a bloody year in the nation's third-largest city.
A spike in murders and shootings — much of it gang-related — shocked Chicagoans, spurred new crime-fighting strategies and left indelible images: Mayor Rahm Emanuel voicing outrage about gang crossfire that killed a 7-year-old named Heaven selling candy in her front yard. Panicked mourners scrambling as shots ring out on the church steps at a funeral for a reputed gang leader. Girls wearing red high school basketball uniforms, filing by the casket of a 16-year-old teammate shot on her porch.
A handful of neighborhoods were especially hard hit, among them Auburn-Gresham; the police district's 43 homicides (as of Dec. 21) ranked highest in the city, and represent an increase of about 20 percent over 2011. The outbreak, fueled partly by feuds among rival factions of Chicago's largest gang, the Gangster Disciples, rippled along 79th street, the main commercial drag. That single corridor offers a window into the wider mayhem that claimed lives, shattered families and left authorities scrambling for answers.
The scars aren't obvious, at first. Drive down West 79th and there's Salaam, a pristine white building of Islamic design, and The Final Call, the restaurant and newspaper operated by the Nation of Islam. Leo Catholic High School for young men. A health clinic. A beauty supply store. Around the corners, neat brick bungalows and block club signs warning: "No Littering. No Loitering. No Loud Music."
Look closer, though, and there are signs of distress and fear: Boarded-up storefronts. Heavy security gates on barber shops and food marts. Thick partitions separating cash registers from customers at the Jamaican jerk and fish joints. Police cars watching kids board city buses at the end of the school day.
Go a few blocks south of 79th to a food market where a sign bears a hand-scrawled message: "R.I.P. We Love You Eli," honoring a clerk killed in November in an apparent robbery. Or a block north to the front lawn of St. Sabina church where photos were added this year to a glass-enclosed memorial for young victims of deadly violence over the years.
Then go back to a corner of 79th, across the street and down the block from where two killings occurred, both gang-related.
There, in an empty lot, a wooden cross stands tall in the winter night. Painted in red is a plea:
THE TOLL: Chicago's murder rate is approaching 500, compared with 435 in 2011. More than 2,400 shootings occurred (as of Dec. 21), an 11 percent increase over last year at the same time. Gang-related arrests are about 7,000 higher than in 2011.
Gang violence isn't new, but it became a major theme in the Chicago narrative this year.
Maybe it was because of the audacity of gang members posting YouTube videos in which they flashed wads of cash and guns. The sight of police brandishing automatic weapons, standing watch outside gang funerals. The sting of one more smiling young face on a funeral program. Or dramatic headlines in spring and summer, such as: "13 people shot in Chicago in 30-minute period."
It was alarming enough for President Barack Obama to mention it during the campaign, noting murders near his South Side home. Then, addressing gun violence in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, he cited Chicago again.
As grim as it is, Chicago's murder rate was almost double in the early 1990s — averaging around 900 — before violent crime began dropping in cities across America. This year's increase, though, is a sharp contrast to New York, where homicides fell 21 percent from 2011, as of early December.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says while murders and shootings are up, overall crime citywide is down 10 percent. He says crime strategies — some just put into place this year — are working, but they take time.
"The city didn't get in this shape overnight," he says. "I think that we're doing ourselves a disservice by advertising a Vietnam-type body count. I've got to tell you when I speak to people ... they generally say, 'You know what? We don't even hear that anymore. It's white noise.'... The fascination unfortunately seems to be in the media and it's become a national obsession."
McCarthy also notes the pace of homicides has slowed sharply since early 2012. Murders skyrocketed 66 percent during an unusually warm March. "We got it down to 20 percent, which isn't good, but it's progress," he says. "I refuse to declare failure from progress."
Up to 80 percent of Chicago's murders and shootings are gang-related, according to police. By one estimate, the city has almost 70,000 gang members. A police audit last spring identified 59 gangs and 625 factions; most are on the South and West sides.
Gangs in Chicago have a long, dangerous history, some operating with the sophistication and hierarchy of corporations. In the 1980s, the leaders of the El Rukns were convicted of conspiring in a terrorism-for-hire scheme designed to collect millions from the Libyan government. Before the feds took down the leadership of the Gangster Disciples in the 1990s, the group had its own clothing line and political arm.
Nowadays, gangs are less structured and disputes more personal, says Eric Carter, commander of the Gresham district, home to 11 factions of the Gangster Disciples. "It's strictly who can help me make money," he says. "Lines have become blurred and alliances have become very fragile."
Carter says a gang narcotics dispute that started about six years ago is at the root of a lot of violence in his district.
Another change among gangs is the widespread use of YouTube, Facebook and other social media to taunt one another and spread incendiary messages. "One insult thrown on Facebook and Twitter becomes the next potential for a shooting incident on the street," Carter says.
McCarthy, who has consulted with criminologists, has implemented several plans, including an audit that identifies every gang member and establishing a long-term police presence in heavy drug-dealing areas, aimed at drying up business.
In two districts, police also have partnered controversially with CeaseFire Illinois, an anti-violence group that has hired convicted felons, including former gang members, to mediate street conflicts. McCarthy, who has expressed reservations about the organization, is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"It's a work in progress," he says. "It hasn't shown a lot of success yet."
AMONG THE DEAD: An 18-year-old walking on a sidewalk. A 36-year-old at a backyard party. A 28-year-old in a car two blocks from the police station. A 40-year-old convenience store clerk, on the job just two months.
In a storefront on 79th, Curtis Toler has a map of the street and surrounding area with 10 stick pins. Each represents a homicide in 2012.
Toler, a former gang member, spent much of his life causing chaos. Now, he's preaching calm. As a supervisor at CeaseFire, his job is to ease tensions and defuse disputes before they explode.
Violence, he says, has become so commonplace, people are desensitized to death.
"I don't think we take it as hard as we should," he says. "When someone gets killed, there should be an uproar. But the ambulance comes, scoops them up, nobody says anything and it's back to business."
Toler's own life was shaped by guns and drugs. "In the early '90s, I was going to funerals back to back to back," he says. "When you're out there, you think you pretty much got it coming. It's a kill-or-be-killed mentality."
As he tells it, he was in a gang (in another neighborhood) from ages 9 to 30, including a six-year prison stint for involuntary manslaughter. He was shot six times, he says; he lifts a gray stocking cap pulled low over his head and presses a thumb over his right eyebrow to show the spot where a bullet struck. "I was blessed" to survive, he says, with a gap-toothed smile.
He was once so notorious, Toler says, that one day about a decade ago his grandmother returned from a community policing gathering and began crying. "She said, 'The whole meeting was about you. ... You and your friends are destroying the whole community. ... You're my grandson, but they're talking about you like you're an animal.'"
Now a 35-year-old father of four, Toler says he decided to go straight about five years ago. He knows some police don't believe his transformation. He regrets things he's done, he says, and for a time had trouble sleeping. "Life has its way of getting back at you one way or another," he says. "I believe in the law of reciprocity."
Toler's message to a new generation on the streets: I keep asking them,' What's the net worth on your life? There is no price.... You only get one. It's not a video game.'"
"You get some guys who listen," Toler says, "and some who really don't care. ... They say, 'I'm going to die anyway.'"
Two blocks east in another storefront on 79th, Carlos Nelson works to bring a different kind of stability to Gresham.
As head of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp., he lures businesses to a community that despite its problems, has well-established merchants and middle-class residents who've lived here for decades.
But Nelson, a 49-year-old engineering graduate raised in Gresham, sees changes since he was a kid, most notably the easy access to guns. "These aren't six-shooters," he says. "These are automatic weapons."
Police say they've seized more than 7,000 guns in arrests this year. Strict gun control measures in Chicago and Illinois have been tossed out by federal courts, most recently the state ban on carrying concealed weapons.
Nelson says he sees limited progress despite new crime-fighting approaches. "The Chicago police department is a lot like a rat on a wheel," he says. "They're getting nowhere. They put metal detectors in the schools but they don't put that same amount of money in to educate our kids."
But Nelson also believes the problem goes beyond policing. A cultural shift is needed, he says, to break the cycle of generations of young men seeing no options.
"It's almost like the walking dead," he says. "They're emotionless about shootings or death or drugs. They think that's all that's expected of them ... that they will die or end up in jail. That's a hell of an existence. That's truly sad."
AMONG THE LIVING: A 17-year-old hit in the leg, wrist and foot while in a park. A 13-year-old struck in the back while riding his bicycle, A 38-year-old shot in the face while driving.
Cerria McComb tried to run when the bullet exploded in her leg, but she didn't get far.
Someone heard her screams, her mother says, and rushed outside to help her make a call.
"Mommy, mommy, I've been shot!" Cerria cried into the phone.
Bobbie McComb ran six blocks, her husband outpacing her. "I'm panicking," she recalls. "I can't catch my breath. All I could think of was I didn't want it to be the last time I heard her voice, the last time I saw her."
Cerria and a 14-year-old male friend were wounded. The bullet lodged just an inch from an artery in the back of Cerria's right knee, according to her mother, who says her daughter is afraid to go out since the early December shooting.
Police questioned a reputed gang member they believe was the intended target; Cerria, they say, just happened to be in the wrong place.
"I'm angry," McComb says. "I'm frustrated. I'm tired of them shooting our kids, killing our kids, thinking they can get away with it. ... If it was my son or my daughter standing out there with a gun, I would call the police on them."
A few blocks west, on 78th Place, another mother, Pam Bosley, sits at the youth center of St. Sabina Church, trying to keep teens on track. The parish is run by the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a firebrand white priest in an overwhelmingly black congregation whose crusades against violence, drugs and liquor and cigarette billboards are a staple of local news.
Bosley's 18-year-old son, Terrell, a college freshman and gospel bass player, was killed in 2006 when he and friends were shot while unloading musical equipment outside a church on the far South Side. A man charged was acquitted.
"I think about him all day and all night," Bosley says of her son. "If I stop, I'll lose my mind."
Bosley works with kids 14 to 21, teaching them life and leadership skills and ways to reduce violence. Sometimes, she says, neglectful parents are the problem; often it's gangs who just don't value life.
"You know how you have duck (hunting) season in the woods?" she asks. "In urban communities, it's duck season for us every day. You never know when you're going to get shot."
In December, Bosley phoned to console the grieving mother of Porshe Foster, 15, who was shot a few miles away while standing outside with other kids. A young man in the group has said he believed the gunman was aiming at him.
"I know how it feels to wake up in your house without your child, and you don't want to get out of bed, you don't feel like living," Bosley says.
St. Sabina is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Bosley sent balloons to the girl's funeral.
On Dec. 6, hundreds celebrated the A-student who liked architecture and played on her school's volleyball and basketball teams.
Her brother, Robert, 22, says his sister "knew what was going on in the streets as well as we did," but he didn't worry because she was either at school, home or church.
"She was always a good girl," he says. "She didn't have to look over her shoulder. She was a 15-year-old girl. She didn't ever do any wrong to anybody."
In March, St. Sabina parishioners, led by the Rev. Pfleger, marched through the streets in protest, calling out gang factions by name. They planted the "Stop Killing" cross on 79th.
In April, the priest and other pastors returned to 79th to successfully stop the reopening of a store where there was a mass shooting; they condemned it as a haven for gangs.
In December, Pfleger stood in his church gym, watching gang members hustle down the basketball court.
On this Monday night, in this gym, it was hard to tell who was who.
The basketball teams wore different colored T-shirts with the same word: Peacemaker. They're all part of Pfleger's 12-week basketball league, aimed at cooling gang hostilities by having rivals face each other on the court. Many players, from 16 to 27, have criminal records.
The league grew out of a single successful game this fall and has high-profile supporters, including Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.
Pfleger says the games have helped players build relationships, see beyond gang affiliation and stop shooting each other, at least for now.
"I have people tell me I'm naive, I'm stupid, I should be ashamed of myself working with these gangs," he says. "I could care less. We've demonized them so much we forget they're human beings."
But Pfleger also says games alone won't change anything. These young men need jobs and an education, and he's working on that.
"When there's no alternative," he says, "you'll continue to do what you do."
- Created on 28 December 2012
A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that the 2012 presidential election marks the first time in history where African-Americans were voting at a higher rate than their white peers, reports The Grio.
"Unlike other minority groups whose increasing electoral muscle has been driven mainly by population growth, blacks' rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates," reports the study.
Although blacks make up 12 percent of the so-called "eligible electorate", 13 percent of the ballots cast for president were African-American voters.
"Did the turnout rate of blacks exceed that of whites this year for the first time ever? For now, there's circumstantial evidence but no conclusive proof," the Pew report says. "And there'll be no clear verdict until next spring, when the U.S. Census Bureau publishes findings from its biannual post-election survey on voter turnout."
The study also acknowledges that "in all previous presidential elections for which there are reliable data, blacks had accounted for a smaller share of votes than eligible voters."
Whether it was voter ID laws, the chance to re-elect the first African-American president or economic insecurity — one this is clear — black voters were motivated to return to the polls this November.
- Created on 26 December 2012
(AP) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson advocated anti-violence and gun control Tuesday during his traditional Christmas Day sermon at a Chicago jail, where he challenged inmates to help get weapons off the streets.
Jackson has long been a supporter of gun control, including an assault weapons ban. He called the deadly Dec. 14 shootings at a Connecticut elementary school a tipping point for the nation when it comes to gun control.
"We've all been grieving about the violence in Newtown, Connecticut, the last few days," he told reporters after addressing inmates at the Cook County Jail. "Most of those here today ... have either shot somebody or been shot. We're recruiting them to help us stop the flow of guns ... We need their awareness of the dangers of more guns and more drugs."
The civil rights leader didn't further detail his plan to involve inmates, saying only that inmates could provide insight.
Jackson walked around the jail auditorium and shook hands with inmates before taking the stage to deliver a rousing sermon. Gospel singers and a band performed as Jackson covered a range of topics, including crime and guns. He encouraged the hundreds of inmates to get tested for HIV, register to vote and pray for forgiveness.
At one emotional point, Jackson called on inmates to get on their knees and ask for guidance to turn their lives around.
"You want to turn your jail cell into a classroom," he told them. "Turn your jail cell into a prayer closet."
Several inmates, with heads bowed, wiped away tears.
Jackson, 71, has delivered Christmas Day sermons at jails for years. He says the idea is to inspire and invest in inmates so they don't return to jail. He was joined by other Chicago pastors and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a Chicago Democrat who also supports an assault weapons ban.
Davis has attended Christmas services at jails for more than two decades.
"It's a highlight of the day," Davis said. "I leave with a renewed spirit."