Emancipation Across the River: Carnegie Center Explores New Albany, Louisville Connections

A century after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in Confederate territories and states, New Albany’s Carnegie Center for Art and History explores the history of emancipation celebrations on both sides of the Ohio River with a talk by historian Pen Bogert.

In 1863, African Americans living in Indiana were free. Across the river, Kentucky was a slave state that never joined the Confederacy, so Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued under his powers as commander-in-chief of the military, didn’t immediately free the state’s slave population.

“The 1870 census shows that somewhere around the order of 60 percent of the African Americans that lived in Clark County, which is going to be mostly New Albany, were born in Kentucky,” says Bogert, who retired from the Filson Historical Society in 2006. “There is a historic and long-term connection between the African American communities, of course involving the Underground Railroad, and the capture of runaway slaves.”

New Albany held public celebrations in 1863, while Louisville had to wait to hold its own celebrations until 1866.

“In Kentucky, slavery did not end officially until the ratification of the 13th amendment, which was at the end of December 1865. So you still had a very sizable population of enslaved people,” says Bogert.

Bogert’s talk will also delve into the histories of how the communities celebrated. New Albany’s programs were more diverse, but for Louisville’s African Americans, the first Emancipation parade was an opportunity to organize publicly for the first time.

“In 1866, in the first parade, you have all of these organizations in the African American communities, Masonic lodges and organizations like that, that weren’t even allowed to exist before Emancipation. They existed in secret,” says Bogert. “Now all of the sudden, the need for secrecy is no more and they are now part of a parade for the first time. That must have been astounding for both blacks and whites to see the parade.”

Tuesday’s Lunch and Listen event is free and begins at noon.

Comments