Elizabeth, ed. First Freed:
Washington, D.C., in the Emancipation Era. (Washington: A.P. Foundation Press, 1998), 183 pp., paper: $15. Order
from A.P. Foundation Press, P.O. Box 56283, Washington, D.C. 20011
Reviewed by Jane Freundel Levey.
Reprinted with permisson from Coming into the City: Essays on Early
Washington, D.C., Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Federal
Government's Arrival in 1800, vol. 12, no. 1 of Washington
History: Magazine of The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., (spring-summer
There are many modern heroes in this gem of a collection of conference papers. Loretta Carter Haynes, formerly of "Reading is Fundamental," revived Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia. Elizabeth Clark-Lewis organized a conference and a lecture series on the subject in 1992, which drew adults, teens, and young children. Most important, Clark-Lewis has shaped the papers into an invaluable resource on the Emancipation Era in Washington.
Emancipation came first to Washington in April 1862, nine months before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the rebellious states. Emancipation was a federal experiment, designed to see if payments to slave holders would keep them loyal to the Union after being forced to free their property. Congress appropriated funds to repay the owners and to colonize (deport) the slaves beyond U.S. boundaries if they so desired. By Congress's lights, the experiment was a success because the slave owners remained loyal; it was a failure, too, because the freed slaves declined to leave.
This volume brings important detail and analysis to the events before, during, and after Emancipation. Ida E. Jones describes the strong free black community that existed here long before the Civil War. Regina T. Akers writes of the emancipation plan and black employment in the Navy Yard. David Taft Terry examines the social supports developed by African Americans before Emancipation and the brief period of voting rights during Reconstruction. Paul Phillips Cooke describes post-Emancipation attitudes toward civil rights protections and the reimposition of segregation. Craig Schiffert analyzes the Emancipation Day Parade, arguing that Washington had been in the "front lines" of the abolitionist movement and illuminating the many facets of the black community. Richlyn F. Goddard reviews the African-American press's coverage of local emancipation. Finally Carol Beane presents important research on the context for the D.C. situation, looking at contemporary emancipation in Latin America. Taken together, the authors evoke the strength, sophistication, and political astuteness of a many-faceted community in a brief flowering of opportunity. Although, as is true in many conference proceedings, these essays overlap at times, the whole makes for compelling reading.
Jane Freundel Levey, editor of Washington History, is co-author of Washington Album: A Pictorial History of the Nation's Capital (Washington Post Books, 2000).