Emancipation Day: The History And The Legacy

Today marks Emancipation Day in the District, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the day slavery ended in D.C. Today’s events will include historical activities and a parade focused on D.C. statehood. In 2007, then-mayor Adrian Fenty declared that Emancipation Day celebrations would be dedicated to the fight for D.C. statehood, an example of how the legacy of slavery has been tied to today’s push for full Congressional representation.

The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act became law on April 16, 1862, nine months before President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. About 3,000 enslaved people lived in D.C. at the time. The law provided compensation to former slave owners but no compensation to former slaves. A commission was set up to assess the monetary “value” of each slave and how much should be paid out to slave owners. National Archives expert Damani Davis tells the Washington Post that the District’s records are unusual for the level of personal detail they include about the formerly-enslaved.

Many records from other sources don’t even provide an enslaved person’s last name. Slaves are treated “as just another form of property,” [Davis] said. In contrast, the District records provide last names, physical descriptions, personal qualities and work skills.

[Clark] Mills, the sculptor, for example, spoke well of his slave Philip Reid, whom he valued at $1,500. Reid was a skilled plasterer and had figured out a way to complete the problematic construction of the Freedom statue, Davis said.

Reid was “aged 42 years, mullatto color, short in stature, in good health, not prepossessing in appearance, but smart in mind, a good workman in a foundry,” Mills wrote of him.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com