When the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, midnight marked the symbolic moment of freedom for enslaved Africans in the Confederacy, and the start of the tradition of Watch Night to the African-American community. According to Portsmouth, New Hampshire historian and Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail founder, Valerie Cunningham, “Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year. It’s been over a century since the first Freedom’s Eve and tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate ‘how we got over.’ This celebration takes many African American descendants of slaves into a new year with praise and worship.”
Although the 1783 New Hampshire Constitution held that all men are born equal and independent," with natural rights, "among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty" it took until 1857 for language that said "No person, because of decent, should be disqualified from becoming a citizen of the state." One person was listed in the 1840 New Hampshire census listed one person still a slave; and not until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 (ratified by New Hampshire on July 1, 1865) was slavery abolished in the state.
Ten years ago, the African Burying Ground listed on a 1705 map of the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire was rediscovered during a street construction project. In 2013, that site on Chestnut Street, between State and Court Streets will advance toward the creation of the African Burying Ground Memorial Park, designed to “Stand for Those Forgotten.” Thanks to the care taken by local citizens and the State Archaeologist when the site was uncovered in 2003, it is the only authenticated African Burying Ground in New England and, like the New York African Burial Ground site now a Federally-designated National Monument in lower Manhattan, the Portsmouth memorial will encapsulate the history of Africans in the city as well as respectful honor to the reinterred remains.
The Seacoast African-American Cultural Center, located in the Discover Portsmouth Center, 10 Middle Street in Portsmouth holds a model of the planned Memorial. The Portsmouth Public Library, 175 Parrott Avenue in Portsmouth displays a one-third size replica of Jerome Meadows' sculpture intended for the site.