CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – On New Year’s Day, 160 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in southern slave states.

The City of Charleston started a parade to commemorate the historic proclamation in 1866 and the parade is still running to this day.

The 157th Emancipation Proclamation Day Parade kicked off at 2:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon with more than 70 different groups and organizations taking part in the celebration.

“Today,” Robert Crawford, president of the Emancipation Proclamation Association said, “we celebrate the 160th year of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln.”

Crawford says the signing was significant for two reasons. First, it allowed Black men to join the U.S. Armed Forces during the Civil War.

“That opened up the door for us to join the Union Army,” Crawford said, “and that positioned us now that we could, those who had become liberated, now they could fight and help liberate others.”

Second, he says it has allowed Black Americans to achieve great things in the past 160 years.

“When I look at many of the accomplishments and many of the things that we’ve achieved at this point,” Crawford said, “that’s because of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

International African American Museum (IAAM) representatives, who participated in Sunday’s parade, say the proclamation was a pivotal step for America on its journey to becoming a more perfect union.

“For African Americans,” IAAM chief learning and engagement officer Malika Pryor said, “who until that moment, had overwhelmingly been enslaved Africans, we weren’t Americans yet. This is now this opportunity where we begin to be engaged as citizens.”

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg says it’s an honor for the city to host one of the longest running parades dedicated to freedom for all.

“This was the day where truly all Americans were proclaimed to be free,” Tecklenburg said. “What a great way to bring in the new year and celebrate one of those values of our country of universal freedom for everyone.”

The parade concluded with a festival at Gadsdenboro Park, which included live entertainment, food trucks and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.