Although New Year’s Eve church services were started in the mid-1700s by John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, the event, known as Watch Night, occupies a special place in black communities across America.
In 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln announced that the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect Jan. 1, freeing all slaves in Confederate states, abolitionists and slaves reportedly gathered together on what was called “Freedom’s Eve” to await and watch what the new year would bring.
This act would eventually become known as Watch Night. Many black churches even continue the tradition of reading the Emancipation Proclamation during the ceremony.
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