Historical Happenings in January

PUBLISHED: Sunday, January 1, 2023 by Emilee Howell

Happy New Year, and happy Historical Happenings! We’re kicking off 2023 with a celebration of monumental moments throughout history, complete with free resources and activities to help you plan your lessons with ease.

History at a Glance:

  • January 1, 1863 - The Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
  • January 3, 1959 - Alaska was admitted into the Union as the 49th state.
  • January 15, 1929 - Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia.

January 1, 1863 – Emancipation Proclamation Issued

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was declared on January 1, 1863, stating “that all persons held as slaves” within the Confederacy “are, and henceforward shall be free.”[1] However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery everywhere in the United States; it only abolished slavery in states still in rebellion against the Union. The Confederate states that the Union conquered and controlled were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation, as were border states loyal to the Union.[2] 

Despite its limitations, the Emancipation Proclamation was a symbolic document that ultimately turned the tide of the Civil War. The proclamation welcomed Black soldiers into the Union Army and Navy to fight in the Civil War. By the end of the war, 200,000 Black servicemen had joined the Army and Navy to fight for freedom. Additionally, the Emancipation Proclamation laid the foundation for the complete abolition of slavery in the U.S.

By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln publicly announced that abolishing slavery was his — and the Union’s — goal. Knowing that the Emancipation Proclamation wouldn’t be enough to abolish slavery following the end of the Civil War, Lincoln worked to ensure an amendment to the Constitution would be added to end slavery. The 13th Amendment did just that, and it was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.[3]

Teaching Resources:

  • “Fifty-fourth Regiment” by Massachusetts Historical Society: The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment was the first Black regiment in the Union Army following the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Recruitment began in February 1863 through newspaper advertisements and posters, and 72 men answered the call and enlisted by the end of the first week of recruitment. In May of 1863, the number of enlisted men was 1,000![4] You can show your students the portraits (known as tintypes) of the soldiers in the Fifty-fourth Regiment, view the recruitment posters and advertisements, and read letters written by the soldiers through the Massachusetts Historical Society’s archives. Check out our free primary sources teacher's guide for ways to implement these primary sources into your instruction.

January 3, 1959 – Alaska Became a State

Everything is bigger in Texas, but everything is the biggest in Alaska! Alaska is more than two and a half times the size of Texas, and it is the largest state in the nation with a land area of 571,022.38 square miles.[5] This land is full of natural splendor with 39 mountain ranges — including North America’s tallest mountain, Denali — 94 lakes, over 3,000 rivers, and 1,800 islands.[6]

Nicknamed “The Last Frontier,” Alaska was the 49th state to join the Union, but Alaska’s ties to the U.S. extended further back. The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for about two cents an acre, which came to $7.2 million.[7] This purchase paid off when gold was discovered in the Yukon in 1896.[8] You can also strike gold with your students using the teaching resources below!

Teaching Resources:

  • “How Big is Alaska?” by For a fun geography lesson, check out this interactive map of Alaska. You can choose your state from the dropdown menu and see its size in comparison to Alaska, plus learn facts about your state and Alaska’s population density, water and coastline, high point, road density, and air travel.
  • Denali National Park & Preserve by National Park Service: Discover Denali’s vast wildlife, plants, and geography of Denali through student reading guides and videos. Your students can also learn about the sled dogs of Denali and how they help park rangers, dinosaur fossils found in the park, and the history and culture of the Native people who live in this region.

January 15, 1929 – Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday 

The civil rights leader, Nobel Prize winner, author, and pastor was born Michael King, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, to Michael King Sr. and Alberta King. Both father and son’s first names were later changed to Martin Luther following Michael King Sr.’s trip to Germany.[9] King’s father and grandfather pastored Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and King followed in their footsteps as co-pastor of the church from 1960 until his passing in 1968.[10]

King became the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954. A year later, he was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956. In 1957, he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lectured throughout the country about civil rights.[11] 

Throughout the following years, he met with presidents and world leaders, organized sit-in demonstrations and marches, wrote books, and gave speeches that have impacted the nation and the world’s civil rights for all people.

King’s legacy is honored on MLK Day, which falls on January 16, 2023. Look for our upcoming blog for ways to celebrate MLK Day with your students and to learn more about his life.

Teaching Resources:

  • “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr: King was imprisoned for participating in a nonviolent demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, in April 1963. While in solitary confinement, King wrote his response to an open letter written by eight white Birmingham religious leaders who criticized King’s protests and demonstrations.[12] This letter is a significant primary source for upper-grade levels to read and reflect on. Ask students to highlight phrases that stand out to them, and then invite them to share these phrases and the significance it holds for them with the class.

For more historical tidbits, lesson plan ideas, and free activities, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Also, check out our other blogs for even more resources!


[1] “Emancipation Proclamation (1863).” The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Accessed 1 December 2022.

[2] “Emancipation Proclamation.” HISTORY, 26 January 2022, Accessed 20 December 2022.

[3] “13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865).” The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration,” Accessed 20 December 2022.

[4] “54th Regiment!” Massachusetts Historical Society, Accessed 20 December 2022.

[5] “QuickFacts.” United States Census Bureau,,AK/LND110220. Accessed 22 December 2022.

[6] “Geography of Alaska.” The State of Alaska, Accessed 22 December 2022.

[7] “Alaska admitted into Union.” HISTORY, 9 February 2010, Accessed 22 December 2022.

[8] “Purchase of Alaska, 1867.” Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute, Accessed 22 December 2022.

[9] Clanton, Nancy, “Why Martin Luther King Jr.’s father changed their names.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 14 February 2022, Accessed 21 December 2022.

[10] “Martin Luther King Jr. – Biographical.” The Nobel Prize, Accessed 21 December 2022.

[11] Carson, Clayborne and Lewis, David L.. "Martin Luther King, Jr.". Encyclopedia Britannica, 3 Dec. 2022, Accessed 21 December 2022.

[12] Maranzani, Barbara. “Behind Martin Luther King’s Searing ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’.” HISTORY, 31 August 2018, Accessed 22 December 2022.