Freedom, Trees and the Emancipation Oak
eman-ci-pate - to free (someone) from someone else's control or power With the 4th of July right around the corner, I was thinking this week about what it means to be free. Freedom comes in many forms: freedom from bondage, freedom from tyranny, freedom from social constraints, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of education, freedom from fears and self-doubt, "free to be you and me" as the song goes. How truly blessed are we to be in a country that champions personal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My Wandering Wednesday adventure exploring trees and freedom today with the kiddos was inspired by an historic enduring tree: The Emancipation Oak in Hampton, VA.
"The Emancipation Oak stands near the entrance of the Hampton University campus and is a lasting symbol of the university’s rich heritage and perseverance. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The document proclaimed 'all persons held as slaves ... are, and henceforward shall be free.' The very first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South was read under this oak tree in Hampton. The tree was a gathering place for freed African-Americans to quench "a great thirst for knowledge and education," which was prohibited for slaves in Virginia but made permissible because they were behind Union lines. It was under this tree that the South first learned of President Lincoln's declaration of freedom. Years later, Booker T. Washington supposedly studied beneath its branches as well. With its limbs now sprawling over a hundred feet (!) in diameter, the Emancipation oak is designated as one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society." (Source: Hampton University) We started our day wandering at Freedom Park on the outskirts of Williamsburg. At Freedom Park, we visited one of the earliest Free Black Settlements, where three historically accurate recreated cabins are furnished with items authentic to the period. (http://www.jamescitycountyva.gov/recreation/parks/freedom-park.html) Our second stop was in the same park. Right around the corner in the trees is a cool place to face your fears called "Go Ape." Go Ape’s mission is to encourage everyone to "live life adventurously" while treading lightly in the most beautiful places and spaces in the US. This treetop adventure course with zip lines, obstacles, Tarzan swings and high ropes courses was our challenge for the early afternoon and we had a ball! You are “harnessed and carabinered” in so you can’t fall as you navigate the various courses in the treetops. I chuckled when we checked in as the staffer told me that with the high temp in the high 90s today, the heat index on the course was 112 degrees. Yep - leave it to me to pick the hottest day so far of the summer to do an adventure course! We jumped and climbed and leaped and zipped and most of all, LAUGHED for an hour and a half! It was invigorating. I highly recommend this place for summer fun. We did the junior course as Caden did not meet the height requirement for the adult course. Alex and I are dying to go back to try the adult course someday soon as it has a 600 foot zip line! http://goape.com/zip-line/virginia-freedom-park From Freedom Park, we headed to our final stop of the day: Hampton University and the Emancipation Oak. It is about a 25 minute ride from Freedom Park to the campus. The tree is located on Emancipation Drive off of E. Tyler Drive. Park at "Parking Lot 2" as the tree is right there.
It is the most incredible tree, though I must admit, I expected better signage and more reverence to the site given its historical significance, which it did not have. That said, my kids and I had a great conversation sitting beneath this noble tree about what it must have been like 151 years ago to have been a slave and to finally hear the words that you would be freed. (It did take two additional years and the 13th amendment to the Constitution for unilateral freedom, though the Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for millions of slaves to be set free.) It was under this tree as well that many freed slaves received their first schooling. It was the perfect ending to a very memorable day and discussion on the value of freedom.
I leave you with two final quotes this Independence Day: --"Those who won our independence believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty."
(-Louis Brandeis) --“Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.”
(-author unknown) Happy 4th of July. PS: Want to learn more about the Emancipation Proclamation? Here is a site with ten facts providing the basics on the proclamation and the history surrounding it: http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/emancipation-150/10-facts.html