Many documents of enduring significance drift in and out of public consciousness almost cyclically. Each time the public renews its acquaintance with the document, there is a determination, not clearly articulated however, that never again will the great work be neglected. Such a time was January 1963, the centennial of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. There were commemorative programs in many parts of the country, reproductions of the document itself were prepared, and there were the appropriate public readings. There were also numerous receptions in honor of the event, the most notable being the one given by President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy at the White House. Meanwhile, several books, written for the occasion, analyzed, commented on, and weighed the impact of the document on the Civil War and the African-American fight for freedom.
The momentum accompanying the centennial observance of the Proclamation’s signing was such that at the time it would have been reasonable to predict that such a commemoration would become at least an annual affair. Within less than a year, however, Americans had put the great document behind them. The same thing would hap-