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Park Ranger Chris Young of the National Park Service discusses the history of Camp Contraband after an event held on the Walnut Street Bridge on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Standing behind him in Coolidge Park in front of a replica of a Union Army block house are students and faculty members from Brainerd High School, from left, Kim Prout, Isaiah Smith, Arlandis Barney, Keon Stevenson and Quincy Harris.

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A bridge to freedom: Chattanoogans celebrate passage of the 13th Amendment ending slavery

Amendment XIII

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The direction of the south-to-north walk a group of Chattanoogans took across the Walnut Street Bridge on Sunday afternoon was intentional.

They were marching back in time and into the future, headed across the river in the same direction that freedom-seeking African-Americans walked during and after the Civil War.

On the 150th anniversary of Georgia's ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, dozens gathered to look back on the significance of the legal end of slavery and to look ahead to Chattanooga's future and the future of human rights across the world.

The vote in Georgia was especially significant because it was the 27th state to ratify the amendment, which gave it the necessary approval by three-fourths of the states to become part of the Constitution. Tennessee voted to ratify on April 7, 1865.

"It was the start of a human rights movement that paved the way for more and more equality in the country," said Eric Atkins, secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP. "Human rights are still going on today. We still have 27 million people enslaved across the world. The spirit of the 13th Amendment is alive, at work and endures because we still must push for the work of universal emancipation."

Standing on the south end of the bridge, Soddy-Daisy High School senior William Green read President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation to a diverse crowd that spanned multiple generations. It says, in part:

"I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

"And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

"And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God."

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Committee on the 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment hosted the event, which was attended by several local leaders. District 9 City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem made remarks before the march, and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke spoke afterward. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, also attended.

A group of students from Girls Preparatory School, who coordinated with Brainerd High School students to help plan the event, also were present.

The march was led by two groups of Union reenactors portraying the divisions of U.S. Colored Troops that served in Chattanooga. One of the groups was from Brainerd High School and wearing uniforms provided by the National Park Service.

Singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," the group made its way across the bridge.

They group stopped in the middle, where Brainerd High School senior KaDarius Scott read the 13th Amendment.

Then the walk continued towards freedom and a brighter future.

"This area, crossing the river," Hakeem said, "was considered a gateway to freedom for many people."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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