Monday, April 11, 2011

Celebrate Emancipation Day in DC

Pick Up a Guide, Watch the Documentary, and Check Out an Event

On April 16, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act which abolished slavery in the District of Columbia. The legislation compensated slave owners for the freedom of approximately 3,100 people, and many refugees swelled the District population as news of the law reached the countryside. Initially, Washingtonians routinely commemorated the occasion with great fervor, but the annual celebrations lost their popularity following the Reconstruction period, and did not see a significant revival until the early 2000s. Today, the District Government, organizations like the Humanities Council, and community leaders collaborate with District residents to, once again, make this holiday an important Spring event. This year, the DC Office of Public Records, in collaboration with a host of partner organizations, has created an impressive schedule of forums, performances, screenings, and ceremonial remembrances. Click here to view the full schedule and participate in the celebration!

Several years ago, the Humanities Council worked with the DC Office of Public Records to produce a booklet called “Ending Slavery in the Nation's Capital.” The handy publication is a must-have resources for those interested in Washington, DC's African American history, and unique path to emancipation. The booklet is available for download as a PDF on the District Government's website and is part of the DC Digital Museum. Print a copy of the pocket sized guide and use it as a reference as you make your way around the celebration sites this week.

The Humanities Council also collaborated with the DC Office of Cable Television to produce an outstanding documentary which examines slave life, emancipation, and the disastrous return of oppression following the Reconstruction Period. This film is also part of the DC Digital Museum Collection and can be viewed on HCTV, the Humanities Council's Youtube Channel. Additionally, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site will screen the film all day on April 16th as part of DC's Emancipation Day celebration.

As the Civil War ravaged the region surrounding the National Capital, many slaves took the opportunity to self-emancipate. In areas controlled by the Union Army, these individuals were eventually dubbed “contrabands of war” and received some measure of protection from slave catchers and bounty hunters, but following a fast marching military force was unsustainable for many families, and as news of DC's Compensated Emancipation Act spread, more and more freed people settled within the confines of the District. These refugees established several “contraband camps” throughout the city; informally at first, but after the creation of the Freedman's Bureau, the Federal Government began registering the inhabitants of these villages within the city, creating lists such as this one held in the Alexandria, Virginia Library Special Collection.
Camp Barker Resident List Courtesy Alexandria Library Special Collections

Camp Barker was located on what is now Logan Circle in Washington, DC. Though the physical remnants of the temporary camps have long-since disappeared, their existence in the District has contributed to a persistent sense of community and pride.

Leave a comment and let us know how you are celebrating Emancipation Day in DC!

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