Enormous live oak tree with sprawling tree limbs, some touching the ground
Credit: Wikimedia
Original Author: Erik Soderstrom
Created: September 14, 2019
Medium: Digital photograph

Emancipation Oak

This sprawling southern live oak tree, with limbs over a hundred feet in diameter, stands at the entrance of Hampton University (originally Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute). In 1861 droves of self-emancipated enslaved people rushed behind federal lines to reach nearby Fort Monroe in search of freedom. A free Black teacher named Mary Peake was recruited to teach the newcomers. She held her first class, which consisted of about twenty students, under the tree on September 17, 1861. The first Southern reading of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took place beneath the tree in 1863, thus earning the tree its name, Emancipation Oak. In 1868 the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) was established on this site by Brigadier General Samuel Armstrong.