Velma Maia Thomas, author of “Emancipation Proclamation — Forever Free: How Slavery Began and Ended in the United States,” will visit the Conyers library at 864 Green St. at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 to discuss her book. (Special Photo)
Two years ago, Velma Maia Thomas watched in interest as lines of people waited to get in to see the Emancipation Proclamation exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in her hometown of Detroit. She considered how parents brought their children to view the historic document, despite the long wait.
“It still means something,” she said of the document.
The scene at the museum inspired, “Emancipation Proclamation — Forever Free: How Slavery Began and Ended in the United States,” a book she co-authored with Kevin McGruder, assistant professor of history at Antioch College.
As part of its Black History Month programming, the Conyers-Rockdale Library will host a presentation by Thomas about the book, on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. in the meeting room on the lower level of the library. The program is free and open to the public, and copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.
As the country reflects upon the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, the community should also recall the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, said Thomas. On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the executive order proclaiming the freedom of slaves in the 10 Southern states who fought against the Northern states during the Civil War.
“It was really a sign from the president and the Union, those responsible, OK, let’s draw the line in the sand here,” said Thomas. “As African Americans, there was this hope of freedom, to our people it meant freedom.”
“Emancipation Proclamation — Forever Free” chronicles the growth of slavery in the United States and highlights efforts to abolish the institution. The timeline of the coffee-table book, which contains illustrations and copies of historical documents, begins before the Declaration of Independence, and works its way up through the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment.
It also covers black history in the 20th and 21st centuries, including excerpts from speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama.
“If someone wants to research the path of African Americans in the U.S. they can go to once source,” said Thomas.
Thomas said that in her presentation she will discuss how African Americans created the conditions for the Emancipation Proclamation to occur and cover topics such the Underground Railroad and the Freedom Fighters.
“The community needs to be aware that we have always fought for our freedom,” said Thomas.
A special projects director for the office of Atlanta City Councilmember Michael Julian Bond, Thomas is a noted author and historian. Her non-fiction works include, “Lest We Forget: The Passage from Africa to Slavery to Emancipation,” and “The Odd Fellow City: The Promise of a Leading Black Town,” published in the Journal of the Georgia Association of Historians in 2012.
She also served as a subject expert for the PBS documentary “Underground Railroad: The William Still Story.”
For 13 years until 2000, she managed the Shrine of the Black Madonna Bookstore and Cultural Center in Atlanta, where she created the Black Holocaust exhibit, which documented slavery in the U.S.
Thomas holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Howard University, a master’s degree in political science from Emory University and a graduate level certificate in heritage preservation from Georgia State University.
To learn more about “Emancipation Proclamation — Forever Free,” visit the Urban Ministries Inc. website at www.umiblackhistory.com.