February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates the February 1, 1865 signing by President Abraham Lincoln of a joint United States House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery and later became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, called on local and national leaders to meet in Philadelphia and formalize a national day of remembrance. In 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

From sunup to sundown slaves brought to the state of Louisiana from their homelands in Africa and the West Indies toiled on plantations six days a week. The seventh day, Sunday, was set aside as a day of rest and worship, and in the afternoon people of African descent gathered in Congo Square in the heart of New Orleans to dance, play instruments, and talk. On Monday morning the long week began anew, but the rhythms of Congo Square sustained the men, women, and children through “hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

On Tuesdays, with “cows to feed, / fields to plow, and rows to seed,” five more days stretched out in endless labor. “Wednesdays, there were beds to make, / silver to shine, and bread to bake. / The dreaded lash, too much to bear. / Four more days to Congo Square.” Thursdays came with wash tubs and drying lines, scrub brushes, and brooms. “Spirituals rose from the despair. / Three more days to Congo Square.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Fridays were spent in back-breaking work and though some brave souls dared to run, most were counting “Two more days to Congo Square.” Saturdays brought no more relief, but the days had whittled down to hours and “Freedom was slaves’ ardent prayer. / One more day to Congo Square.” At last came Sunday afternoon, and slaves and free rushed to Congo Square—“…a market and a gathering ground / where African music could resound.”

They met their kinsmen by nation, tribe, or language and revived their own stories and music played on drums, fiddles, shells, flutes, gourds, and bells that led to chants and dancing. “This piece of earth was a world apart. / Congo Square was freedom’s heart.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Through powerful rhythmic couplets, as spare and austere as the work they describe yet ending in a focal point of hope, Carole Boston Weatherford recreates the steady thrum that resonated in the hearts of slave and free men and women as they anticipated each afternoon in Congo Square.  As the days remaining until Congo Square are counted off, Weatherford’s predominantly one-syllable words form a staccato beat, the pounding of hard, physical work. When Sunday comes and people find joy in their shared music and dance, Weatherford’s phrasing within the same structured couplets rises, employing multi-syllable words that give the verses a pulsing flow that echoes the freedom they find in Congo Square.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Gregory Christie’s vivid folk-art illustrations are a perfect complement to Weatherford’s verses. The elongated figures stand tall and proud amidst the fields and workrooms of the plantation. In some scenes the slaves’ angled bodies, leaning over to pick cotton, wash floors, or lift baskets may be bent, but they are not broken, and while two men work on building a wall, they seem to kneel prayerfully as they add another brick. In a moving two-page spread set at night, brown wood-grain houses superimposed with rows of sleeping slaves float on a blue-toned ground below a red sky, reminiscent of ships laden with Africans sailing the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. As the men and women congregate in Congo Square, Christie’s lithe figures raise their arms and kick their legs in dance. The fiery backgrounds swirl with color as the celebrants jump, stretch, play instruments and move with exultation.

A detailed Forward by historian and Congo Square scholar, Freddi Williams Evans and an Author’s Note following the text reveal more information on the history of Congo Square and its significance to Jazz music.

Freedom in Congo Square is both a heartrending and jubilant book that would make a wonderful and meaningful addition to any child’s home library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

Learn more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books and discover book-related resources on her website!

If you’re lucky enough to live in Decatur, Illinois, you can visit R. Gregory Christie’s unique art studio, art school, and bookstore Gas-Art Gifts Autographed Children’s Bookstore. If you don’t live near Decatur, you can check out all the books, art, and items for sale on the website!

National Freedom Day Activity

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Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

Picture Book Review

February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day was created by a former slave named Major Richard Robert Wright Sr. and was established as a national holiday on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The observance commemorates the day in 1865 when Abraham Lincoln signed a resolution that would become the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment was ratified almost one year later by each state and outlawed slavery.

Today, people often celebrate National Freedom Day by laying a wreath at the Liberty Bell, which is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

 Written by Ellen Levine | Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

 

Henry Brown was born a slave. He didn’t know his birthday and he never knew security. “Like autumn leaves are torn from the trees,” his mother tells him, “slave children can be torn from their families.” When Henry’s master calls him to his sickbed, Henry hopes to be freed, but instead, his mother’s fear comes true. Henry is taken away and grows up far from his family, learning to be careful not to make mistakes that will bring severe punishment.

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Image copyright Kadir Nelson, text copyright Ellen Levine. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

One day Henry, now a young man, falls in love with Nancy, a slave on another plantation. Henry and Nancy marry and are allowed to live together despite being owned by separate masters. Henry and Nancy have three children and are living happily.

But one day Nancy tells Henry that her master’s plantation is in financial trouble. She is afraid her master will sell their children to make money. The idea strikes fear into Henry’s heart. The next day Henry learns that indeed Nancy and his children have been sold. He knows he can show no emotion, but “his heart twisted in his chest.”

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Image copyright Kadir Nelson, courtesy of Scholastic Press

Henry runs to the town square and sees his children and Nancy being driven away. Henry is devastated. Time passes and Henry thinks about freedom. Lifting a crate used for shipping tobacco gives him an ingenious idea. He will mail himself to the North, where he can be free.

Henry’s friends agree to help him, and although they’re afraid he will be discovered, they seal him into a wooden box, address it to people in Philadelphia, and send him off. The crate is handled roughly throughout the journey north, and Henry must endure pain for many hours. Henry finally arrives safely in Philadelphia on March 30, 1849. Known from then on as Henry “Box” Brown, he became one of the most famous runaway slaves in America.

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Image copyright Kadir Nelson, text copyright Ellen Levine. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

Based on an actual story of The Underground Railway, Henry’s Freedom Box is written and illustrated to stunning effect. Ellen Levine’s lyrical and metaphorical language combines with the excellent pacing of the pages to enhance the emotional impact of this powerful and original true story. Children will be inspired by this man who suffered devastating loss, but persevered and through cunning, bravery, and the help of friends, obtained freedom.

Kadir Nelson took inspiration for his illustrations from an antique lithograph of Henry Brown, created by Samuel Rowse in 1850. Through a combination of watercolor and oils crosshatched with pencil lines, Nelson’s richly hued paintings capture the poignancy of Henry’s struggles and ultimate freedom. His characters’ facial expressions are particularly moving.

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad is a riveting story of slavery and one man’s fight for freedom that would make an excellent addition to children’s libraries.

To view a gallery of books and other illustration work by Kadir Nelson, visit his website!

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic Press, 2007 | ISBN 978-043977733

National Freedom Day Activity

CPB - Freedom Stamp template (2)

Create Your Own Freedom Stamp

 

If you were going to create a postage stamp representing freedom, what would it look like? Think about what freedom means to you, then grab some colored pencils and design your own stamp!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the Freedom Stamp template
  2. Draw your own design about what freedom means to you
  3. Cut out the stamp and display it in your room or in a common area of your home

OR:

  1. Inside the stamp template write a letter to:
  • Someone in the Military: Thank them for their service to the United States to help keep our country free. You can learn how to send letters to members of the military here.
  • Your Teacher: Thank your teacher for all of her or his hard work. Only through education can we really be free.
  • Someone else who inspires you: Tell this person why they inspire you and thank them for their work.
  1. Give your Freedom Stamp letter to the person it is written to

Picture Book Review