Several events were held around the country, including one in Chicago commemorating the document.
A special recognition of the Emancipation Proclamation brought out a crowd that packed into the chapel at Rainbow PUSH headquarters.
Reverend Jesse Jackson says this should be a national day of remembrance for all Americans.
"It freed the slave masters as well as it freed the slaves on that occasion," he said.
Copies of the proclamation were passed out to the audience and it was read out loud.
"And so I, Abraham Lincoln, do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are, henceforward and shall be free."
Gregory and Sherii Boggs brought their sons to the program to give them some perspective on American history.
"To hear it read and to hear the background what brought it about was really insightful," Sherii Boggs said.
Lincoln signed the document, which called for slaves in states that seceded from the union to be free.
It did not actually free any slaves immediately but did change the character of the Civil War, shifting it from a war to preserve the union to a war for freedom.
For the Nesbitt family, this is a time to reflect on how far the country has come over the past 150 years.
"This is important for us for our children because we want them to understand who they are, what they come from, where they come from," said Opal Staples-Nesbitt.