January 1, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. This declared permanent free status for all slaves in Confederate states at war with the U.S. These slaves were not liberated until the Union Army regained control of their area. Later, freedom for all was added to the constitution in the Thirteenth Amendment after a fight for it to pass Congress, which was dramatized in the recent movie Lincoln.
Slaves gathered in churches on that New Year’s Eve to wait until midnight. This link mentions this as well as the slaves’ previous New Year’s Eves, which were sometimes sad occasions: