Black U.S. leaders call for Abolition Day holiday

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) - A group of black U.S. lawmakers and other prominent figures on Tuesday called on the federal government to declare a national holiday to mark Abolition Day, the official end to the nation's use of slavery.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as a federal appeals judge and the NAACP released a petition asking for the holiday to fall on Dec. 6, which this year marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

“(December 6, 1865) is arguably the most significant moment in African-American history,” Judge James Wynn, a member of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said in a conference call. "It isn’t often we can look to a specific date and say, 'An evil institution ended that day.'"

The White House petition, which requires 100,000 signatures to be considered by the federal government for approval, aims to boost public awareness of the true end to U.S. slavery, organizers said.

Nearly half of the 1,000 Americans surveyed by Sachs Media Group earlier this month said they thought the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863 officially ended U.S. slavery. About 26 percent correctly identified the 13th Amendment, which resulted in four million slaves being freed and gaining U.S. citizenship.

Organizers say the push for Abolition Day is also in response to racial injustices and conflicts still facing the country.

It comes in the wake of the Black Lives Matter activist movement, which formed in response to violence against black people and has led protests around the country for more than two years.

As part of the Abolition Day campaign, some of those involved will hold events at federal buildings, including the National Archives Building in Washington and the Capitol Building, through the end of December.

If successful, Abolition Day would follow in the footsteps of Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in Washington on April 16 that celebrates the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Alistair Bell)