Friday, February 25, 2022

Black Washington Welcomes the Emancipation Proclamation

From a National Park Service Report on the Black refugees who came to Washington, DC during the Civil War:

Unquestionably, the Emancipation Proclamation was an enormous step which definitively marked the Union Army as a liberationary force (soldiers, in fact, began carrying small copies of the Proclamation on cards to distribute as they occupied Confederate territory), but it did not apply in all cases. . . .

Certainly, freedpeople throughout the capital region celebrated these milestones. In the school at Camp Barker on New Year’s Eve 1862, “the whole congregated multitude of contrabands, young and old, awaiting upon their knees at midnight the signal of the moment between December 31, 1862, and January 1, 1863” marked the arrival of the Emancipation Proclamation. When January 1 arrived, the African American minister Henry McNeal Turner was preaching to an open-air congregation at Israel Church when “such a multitude of people in and around my church” prompted him to suspend his sermon and run “up to the office of the first paper in which the proclamation of freedom could be printed, known as the Evening Star.” There, Turner jostled his way to the front of the crowd, and when the first printed copy shot off the press, he was one of three men to grab for it. He missed the first and the second but snatched the third and ran down Pennsylvania Avenue, waving his copy. As freedpeople caught sight of the sheet of paper “they raised a shouting cheer that was almost deafening.” Members of the crowd lifted Turner up onto a platform where he began to read the text, but was too overcome. A companion took over for him, and as he read, “men squealed, women fainted, dogs barked, white and colored people shook hands, songs were sung,” cannons fired and a roar rose from the area of the White House. “Great processions of colored and white men marched to and fro and passed in front of the White House,” where Lincoln waved out the window, concerned, Turner speculated, that if he ventured out, the animated crowd “would hug him to death.” Two years later, when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865, one hundred guns in a battery in Franklin Square fired a salute, and dignitaries all over the city made speeches. One such speech was delivered by the African American minister, Henry Highland Garnet, who spoke from the desk of the Speaker of the House to a large, racially mixed crowd in a Capitol from which African American spectators had been barred when the war began.

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