UI celebrates Emancipation Proclamation anniversary


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As the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation approaches, at least one University of Iowa official doesn’t think there’s enough diversity at the UI.

“Sometimes, people think that if you have one or two black faculty in a department, or one or two black students in a program or classroom, that constitutes diversity,” said Deborah Whaley, an associate professor of American Studies at the UI.

This year’s enrollment at the UI consists of 31,948 students, a record for the university, and freshmen make up 4,470 of those students. This year’s class is also the most diverse in the UI’s history, with 725 students, or 16.2 percent of the freshman class, identifying as minorities.

“Insofar as race and ethnicity is concerned, we need more black, Latino, Indigenous Nations, and Asian American faculty and students at the University of Iowa, across the humanities, and the sciences at every level,” Whaley wrote in an email.

UI officials hosted a live-broadcast “watch party” on Monday honoring the upcoming anniversary of the proclamation at the Bijou. Roughly 20 people attended the event that was put on in coordination with Constitution week.

The actual event, which was held at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., was broadcasted over the Internet to thousands of viewers nationwide. The event featured a panel of five Civil War historians who spoke about the history, impact, and fallacies regarding the Emancipation Proclamation.

University of Richmond President Edward Ayers opened the program by acknowledging both the historical and modern characteristics of the event.

“Although we are talking about the past, this is a very 21st century presentation,” he said.  

Ayers said the event, which was also broadcasted live on C-SPAN, did not target a specific age group. Those who viewed the event were encouraged to participate by submitting questions to the panelists via Twitter.

Panelist Christy Coleman of the American Civil War Center tackled a common misinterpretation of the Emancipation Proclamation.

She said that abolitionists, although they wanted to end slavery, did not want former slaves to have the same rights that they had.

Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University, echoed Coleman. He said that although President Abraham Lincoln was opposed to slavery, he did not support the implementation of free African-Americans into society.

Gary Gallagher, a history professor at the University of Virginia, said the proclamation was about more than just slavery.

“Everyone [understood] that without enslaved labor, there was no way the Confederacy could mobilize its manpower and overcome the Union,” he said.

Although common misinterpretations regarding the proclamation seemed to be numerous, the panel agreed that it played an incredibly important factor in the push for equal rights.

Professor Leslie Schwalm, who specializes in gender and African-American studies, said that it is important for students to not only acknowledge the proclamation but to understand it as well.

“There are lots of misconceptions about the proclamation,” she said. “The proclamation itself is a dull piece of presidential power. It actually never defined what ‘freedom’ was. If we want to see how important the proclamation was, we need to look at its consequences, and what happened afterwards.”

UI junior Ethan Lawrence said the proclamation has led to increased diversity throughout society the past 150 years and is apparent in Iowa City.

“There’s quite a bit of it,” he said. “It’s good for a people to experience it while they’re here, because almost everyone will deal with it in their professional careers.”

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