National Freedom Day was initially advocated for by Major Richard Robert Wright Sr (1855-1947), who had been born into slavery and, following emancipation, had a successful military and business career. Wright chose February 1st because it is the day on which Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. The first observance consisted of a wreath-laying ceremony and took place at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA, in 1942.
National Freedom Day only received recognition in 1948, after World War II. President Harry S. Truman officially proclaimed the day in 1949, and, in doing so, referenced the newly composed Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the proclamation, Harry Truman called “upon the people of the United States to pause on that day in solemn contemplation of the glorious blessings of freedom which we humbly and thankfully enjoy.”
According to the Library of Congress’ America’s Stories website, National Freedom Day’s purpose is to “promote good feelings, harmony and equal opportunity among all citizens and to remember that the United States is a nation dedicated to the ideal of freedom.”
While the Jewish community tends to focus on the significance of freedom during the Passover holiday, taking a moment to contemplate what the rights and freedoms of American life have given to the Jewish people is always beneficial. For over 200 years, Jews have felt safe to live a Jewish life, to build Jewish communities and, at the same time, become significant contributors to society at large. This freedom, especially the freedom from fear, has allowed the Jewish people to uniquely flourish in the “land of the free, and the home of the brave...”
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