Friday, March 30, 2012

City Government to Sponsor a Host of Emancipation Day Commemorations

City Officials Meet at African American Civil War Museum to Talk Sesquicentennial

Wednesday afternoon, Frank Smith stood before a class from Washington Christian Academy in Akron, Ohio and let them in on DC's secret about the Emancipation Proclamation - ours was first. Slavery was abolished in Washington, DC by the DC Compensated Emancipation Act nine months before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared an end to slavery in all Confederate held territories. Smith, a former city councilmember, and current Executive Director of the African American Civil War Museum is an expert on the subject, which is likely why, after he'd answered the last of the Ohio students' questions, he was chosen to introduce Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Councilmember Vincent Orange as they kicked off the city's 150th Anniversary Celebration of Emancipation Day. 

Events are planned throughout the month of April, and Councilmember Orange ran through the list at yesterday's meeting, but there are too many to list here. Check out the DC Government's Emancipation Day website at to explore the many ways the community will bring people together around this historic occasion. Highlights include: lectures from historians C.R. Gibbs and Kate Masur; a Jazz Concert at the Lincoln Theater; a commemorative wreath laying ceremony; an authentic Civil War encampment; and a BET sponsored debate featuring Rev. Al Sharpton, and Michael Eric Dyson.

Gray presents certificate decreeing the 150th Anniversary of
Emancipation in Washington an official city holiday to Smith
and Orange.
The auditorium at the African American Civil War History Museum was packed with program partners, media members, and the interested public as Smith, Gray, and Orange took their places on the stage. Smith set the tone for the event by recounting the story of Robert Smalls; a man, born into slavery who escaped during the height of the Civil War, and whose famous service in the Union forces landed him a seat in Congress during the period of radical reconstruction. The inspirational story served as a reminder that, though we celebrate an act of compensated emancipation, true freedom cannot be given, it must be won.

Mayor Gray sought to link the remembrance of the 3100 slaves who were freed in on April 16, 1862, with the District's present struggle over home rule and voting rights. "We are still fighting this battle," offered Gray, meaning that, though slavery was abolished first in DC, a lack of representation still renders it's citizens less free than they should be. Gray hopes that the celebration of Emancipation Day will continue to grow, and will one day hold new meaning for Washingtonians as they city gains voting rights and increased autonomy from Federal authority.

Councilmember Orange spoke next announcing highlights from the incredible list of programs pulled together by the DC government and community partners. Take a look at the list of activities and let us know how you plan to celebrate this momentous anniversary. 

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