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|Added to NRHP:||November 12, 1969|
Emancipation Oak is a historic tree located on the campus of Hampton University in what is now the City of Hampton, Virginia. The large sprawling oak is 98 feet (30 m) in diameter, with branches which extend upward as well as laterally. It is designated one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society and is part of the National Historic Landmark district of Hampton University. The tree is a Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana).
During the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), Union forces retained control of nearby Fort Monroe and it became a place of refuge for escaped African American slaves seeking asylum. The Army defined them as contraband to avoid returning them to slaveholders. Prior to the Civil War, and following the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831, Virginia law had been changed to prohibit the education of slaves.
In November 1861, the American Missionary Association asked Mary Smith Peake (1823 to 1862) to teach children of freedmen at the contraband camp related to Fort Monroe.(Jones-Wilson et al., 1996). She was said to start her classes outside, under the tree. Peake was the first black teacher of the AMA, which expanded to support numerous educational institutions in the South. Her base was 3 miles from the protective safety of Fort Monroe, but her classes also attracted adults at night. Soon the AMA provided the Brown Cottage for her classes. She taught up to 50 children during the day and 20 adults at night.
In 1863, the Virginia Peninsula's black community gathered under the oak to hear the first Southern reading of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, leading to its nickname as the Emancipation Oak.
After the conclusion of hostilities, a school was founded here in 1868 by General Samuel C. Armstrong and the American Missionary Association as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, a land grant school. From 1872 to 1875, one of its many students was Booker T. Washington, the son of a freedman. He became a famous educator who founded Tuskegee Institute. In collaboration with the philanthropist Julius Rosenwald in the early 20th century, Washington and staff at Tuskegee Institute helped found dozens of rural schools for African-American children across the South.
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute became Hampton Institute in 1930. It gained university status in 1984, becoming Hampton University. It is one of Virginia's major institutions of higher education. In the 21st century, the Emancipation Oak still stands to provide both shelter and inspiration to the school's students and staff.
See also 
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- Rev. Lewis C. Lockwood (2009). Mary S. Peake: The Colored Teacher at Fortress Monroe. Dodo Press. ISBN 978-1-4099-7258-7.
- Taylor, Kay Ann. "Mary S. Peake and Charlotte L. Forten: Black Teachers During the Civil War and Reconstruction", The Journal of Negro Education, Spring 2005, accessed 27 January 2011