Eman­ci­pa­tion statue un­veiled in staged re­cre­ation

Re-en­act­ment teaches District’s role in hol­i­day

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JU­LIA AIREY

For the first time since 1876, Union mus­kets were loaded and Fred­er­ick Dou­glass took cen­ter stage on Capi­tol Hill.

The Na­tional Park Ser­vice on Mon­day staged a re­cre­ation of the un­veil­ing of the Eman­ci­pa­tion statue at Lin­coln Park as part of the District’s an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of Eman­ci­pa­tion Day.

Park Ser­vice staffers last month found copies of the 1876 cer­e­mony’s pro­gram, and Vince Vaise, the chief of vis­i­tor ser­vices, de­cided to recre­ate the event for this year’s hol­i­day.

“We want to give peo­ple a sense of what an Eman­ci­pa­tion Day pro­gram was like back in the 1870s,” Mr. Vaise said. “It was a time dur­ing Re­con­struc­tion, a time when the United States was try­ing to heal it­self, kind of grap­pling with is­sues like race and class, es­pe­cially only 11 years af­ter the blood­i­est war in Amer­i­can his­tory and the only civil war we ever had af­ter the blood­i­est war. So let’s show what that was like.”

Among the doc­u­ments Mr. Vaise and his col­leagues found in the Li­brary of Congress was a copy of the day’s speech by writer, abo­li­tion­ist and freed slave Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, who was born in Ana­cos­tia 200 years ago. A Dou­glass im­per­son­ator re­cited the speech at Mon­day’s event.

“The name of Abra­ham Lin­coln was near and dear to our hearts in the dark­est and most per­ilous hours of the Repub­lic,” Dou­glass said at the foot of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Memo­rial, which he un­veiled. “Our faith in him was of­ten taxed and strained to the ut­ter­most, but it never failed.”

Also known as the Freed­man’s Memo­rial, the Eman­ci­pa­tion statue shows Lin­coln stand­ing with one hand on his Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion and the other ges­tur­ing over a bowed slave ris­ing as he breaks the shack­les on his wrists.

“He is a real guy,” Mr. Vaise told The Wash­ing­ton Times, re­fer­ring to slave de­picted in the statue. “His name is Archer Alexan­der and the face was mod­eled af­ter a pho­to­graph that was sent to the sculp­tor. Archer Alexan­der was the last African-Amer­i­can to be caught under the Fugi­tive Slave Act, in the state of Mis­souri, so in the way he kind of sym­bol­izes the end of slav­ery.”

Lin­coln ended slav­ery in the District with the is­suance of the D.C. Com­pen­sated Eman­ci­pa­tion Act of April 16, 1862, freeing about 3,100 slaves in the city. The Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion, is­sued Sept. 22, 1862, freed all slaves as of Jan. 1, 1863. But the Civil War did not end un­til 1865, and the news of the slaves’ eman­ci­pa­tion didn’t reach Texas un­til June 19, 1865, which is cel­e­brated as June­teenth.

On Mon­day, the park ser­vice also hosted a va­ri­ety of ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties for chil­dren, in­clud­ing in­fantry drills with Adam Gre­sek, who played a Civil War-era ar­tillery man. With a first sergeant in­fantry­man, played by John W. McCaskill, they handed out wooden mus­kets to chil­dren and ex­plained how Union troops sorted sol­diers based on who had enough teeth to bite open car­tridge pa­pers.

Shel­tered from the rain under a tent, three sto­ry­tellers from the Dou­ble Nick­els The­atre Com­pany gath­ered chil­dren around. Tony Ford, a mem­ber of the com­pany, told The Times it was an op­por­tu­nity to teach about District’s spe­cial role in Eman­ci­pa­tion Day, such as the fact that the city’s eman­ci­pa­tion act paid slave own­ers $300 per freed slave — mak­ing the District the only re­gion that com­pen­sated for­mer slave own­ers.

“You can have very, very se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions through pup­petry and it’s not threat­en­ing,” said Mr. Ford, who lives in Hill­crest in South­east.

“When you’re talk­ing to a pup­pet, it’s not hard-core school work,” said pup­peteer Schroeder Cherry. “You don’t feel like you’re sit­ting in a class­room, but you’re still learn­ing.”

D. Richard­son, a na­tive Wash­ing­to­nian, said that his­tor­i­cal re-en­act­ment events like Mon­day’s are an im­por­tant way for chil­dren to learn the lessons of the past as they forge ahead with their own ac­tivist causes.

“You can’t move into the fu­ture with­out the past,” said Ms. Richard­son, 59.

Mr. Vaise told re­porters that he hopes to make the reen­act­ment an an­nual tra­di­tion at Lin­coln Park.

Else­where in the District, res­i­dents com­mem­o­rated Eman­ci­pa­tion Day with re­newed calls for D.C. state­hood.

City ac­tivists met with mem­bers of the House and the Sen­ate to voice sup­port a state­hood bill in­tro­duced by D.C. Del­e­gate Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton, the District’s non­vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Congress.

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