Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.
1866 article and engraving about Emancipation Celebration in Washington, DC and President Johnson's address.
Harper's Weekly; May 12, 1866, p. 300
THE NEGRO CELEBRATION IN WASHINGTON.
The occasion of the celebration, which took place April 19, was the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
Two regiments of colored troops and various colored civic associations, with many other colored citizens, assembled in front of the Executive Mansion, making a dense mass of colored faces, relieved here and there by a few white ones. After the firing of cannon and the playing of several martial airs three cheers were given fro the President of the United States, who, having been escorted to a prominent position, addressed the assemblage.
The President, after thanking his colored friends for the compliment they were paying him in presenting themselves before him on the day of their celebration, reminded them that their truest friends were not those who had selected them "as a hobby and a pretense by which they could be successful in obtaining and maintaining power." He claimed to have himself contributed more than any other man in procuring the Constitutional ratification of their emancipation. He had done this not to gain power, but to establish freedom – a cause for which he had periled his all. He concluded as follows:
"Then let me mingle with you in celebration of the day which commenced your freedom. I do it in sincerity and truth, and trust in God the blessings which have been conferred may be enjoyed and appreciated by you, and that you may give them a proper direction. There is something for all to do. You have high and solemn duties to perform, and you ought to remember that freedom is not a new idea. It must be reduced to practical reality. Men in being free must deny themselves many things which seem to be embraced in the idea of universal freedom. It is with you to give evidence to the world and the people of the United States whether you are going to appreciate this great boon as it should be, and that you are worthy of being freemen. Then let me thank you with sincerity for the compliment you have paid me by passing through here to-day, and paying your respects to me. I repeat again, the time will come when you will know who have been your best friends, and who have been your friends from mercenary considerations. Accept my thanks."
Very many of the audience approached and shook hands with the President.
The procession then re-formed and took up the line of march along Pennsylvania Avenue. In passing the Capitol cheer after cheer rent the air in compliment to their legislative friends. There were probably 4,000 or 5,000 colored men in the procession, while 10,000 of the same race were interested spectators, manifesting their joy and gladness by waving their hats and handkerchiefs and cheering lustily the passing procession. The celebration was closed with religious services and the delivery of addresses in Franklin Square in the presence of a vast multitude. The stand on the south side of the Square was calculated to seat a large number of persons, and was handsomely decorated, a large national flag being displayed on either side, and one hanging in festoons at the front corners, with one in front on which was a message of President Lincoln as follows:
"Fellow citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives: The act entitled 'An act for the release of certain persons held to service in the District of Columbia' has this day been approved and signed. A. Lincoln 'April 14, 1862.'"
Over the top of this stand was the inscription:
"Lincoln, the Liberator of millions: his great work is done, and he sleeps in peace in the great prairies of the West. We are loyal to God and to our country. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."
"We have received our civil rights. Give us the right of suffrage, and the work is done."
The audience were then addressed by the Rev. Highland Garnett (colored), Senator Trumbull, and the Hon. Henry Wilson.
[Below the article is a black and white sketch of the procession, with the inscription: "CELEBRATION OF THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA BY THE COLORED PEOPLE, IN WASHINGTON, April 19, 1866. – (sketched by F. Dielman.)"]