A Celebration of Watch Night

Watch Night

President Lincoln, in a moment of reflection said, “If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act” – The Emancipation Proclamation – “and my whole soul is in it.”  This proclamation, justified by  Lincoln’s wartime constitutional authority,  was more than a mere reflection. It was encouragement to the enslaved people, the abolitionist, and people of good conscience that the struggle must be for more than Union. It must be for a “new birth of freedom.” Frederick Douglass immortalized this point in his speech, “A Glorious Era Has Begun.”


Watch Night and Juneteenth happened two years apart. Watch Night occurred  the eve of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, December 31,1862. Juneteenth two and a half years later occurred  June 19, 1865,  in Galveston, Texas. Watch Night was the watching and waiting by enslaved people and free people throughout the country, excluding Galveston, who anticipated ahead of time that the Emancipation Proclamation, was going to be signed, opening the door to freedom for thousands of enslaved people. Conversely, the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were kept ignorant of this document and its meaning  until General Gordon Granger and regiments of Colored Soldiers — including the IL 29th Inf. U.S. Colored Troops — went to Galveston and announced by reading General Order No. #3 on June 19th, 1865, informing the enslaved people that they were freed two and a half years earlier with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus, the common thread between these two separated and different events, Watch Night and Juneteenth, is the historic document , The Emancipation Proclamation.

The Watch Night program was developed by Robert Davis and the Abraham Lincoln Association.  It was scheduled to be performed live at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois on December 31, 2021.  The performance was canceled due to Covid concerns.  The recording of the performance was developed for the ALA website.

Cast Members:

  • Robert Davis
  • Rev. Susan Phillips, First Presbyterian Church
  • Kathryn Harris
  • Roger Bridges
  • James Cornelius
  • Robert Lenz
  • Patricia James Davis
  • Kamau Kemayo
  • Anne Moseley
  • Yvonne Singley
  • James Patton
  • Kent Massie
  • Sue Massie