Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The District of Columbia Emancipation Act

In tribute to my great grandfather, Henry Smith, who escaped from slavery at the age of twelve and traveled north to Washington, DC, and all the great souls that made that journey too, I dedicate this post to them. The following piece is taken from the National Archives and Records Administration. The sketch to the right was done by F. Dielman in 1866 during the D.C. Emancipation celebration.

* * *

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Passage of this law came 8 1/2 months before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. The act brought to a conclusion decades of agitation aimed at ending what antislavery advocates called "the national shame" of slavery in the nation's capital. It provided for immediate emancipation, compensation to former owners who were loyal to the Union of up to $300 for each freed slave, voluntary colonization of former slaves to locations outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 for each person choosing emigration. Over the next 9 months, the Board of Commissioners appointed to administer the act approved 930 petitions, completely or in part, from former owners for the freedom of 2,989 former slaves.

Although its combination of emancipation, compensation to owners, and colonization did not serve as a model for the future, the District of Columbia Emancipation Act was an early signal of slavery's death. In the District itself, African Americans greeted emancipation with great jubilation. For many years afterward, they celebrated Emancipation Day on April 16 with parades and festivals.


Lola Gets said...

Yep, they celebrated this holiday til sometime in the 1890s because, over time, "elite" Blacks distanced themselves from the holiday, as they did not want to play up their enslaved status. I think its starting to come back again in DC; I assume its mostly because of the popularity of Juneteenth celebrations.

Hey, Im a native Washingtonian, too! And I used to work for Al Jazeera - arent they a great station?

Hope to see you over at my site.



Lola Gets said...

What high school did you go to? I went to a Catholic school.


microbrother said...

lola, it's good to hear your voice. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the wilderness.

WOW, you worked for Al Jazeera! Did you meet Dave Marish(sp?)? What's the real deal behind him leaving?

I went to St. Emma which was 50 west of Richmond, Va. Like many catholic schools, it nolonger exists, now.

I'll check out your site, too.
I look forward to hearing from you again.

Lola Gets said...

I had no idea that Dave Marash left! He was a nice guy. Hmm, I cant say what I want to in these comments, but AJE is being shaken up a little, internally, if ya know what I mean.

Oh, I hope your niece is above the age of 18! Lola gets a little raunchy every once in a while, lol.


yummy411 said...

many dc residents who don't work for the government asked me why we were out today =(

the pope was strategically scheduled to visit on this day *double sad face*

what juneteenth celebration will we be attending *happy face*

Anonymous said...

For me, this was a piece of history that I did not know about. I'm glad that I visited your site. I heard the announcement on the local radio station in regards to public schools and district offices being closed. I was on campus watching the pope. I hate that I missed the events surrounding the District of Columbia Emancipation Act.

Microbrother, you went to a Catholic school? I went from K-8 back home in Birmingham, AL. Catholic schools are going through similar situations all over the country: closures = a loss for the community.

microbrother said...

Miss Ann,

Yes, back in "the day", Catholic schools were staffed by members of the church(in my case, priests) who were, for all intent and purpose, subsistence workers.

Over the years, Catholic schools began to lose enrollment due to public and secular schools' improvement and more competitive instructors/teachers. Catholic schools just couldn't afford to keep up.

My school, St. Emma Military Academy, was the only black military school in the country. I wrote a piece about St. Emma in the Washington Post "Outlook" section 19JAN94.

Thanks for coming by.