About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "DC Emancipation Day and the Emancipation Proclamation" 

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
April 12, 2019 

Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through YouTube or Facebook. I’m pleased you could join us for tonight’s discussion on the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the DC Emancipation Act, and I hope those of you here viewed the special display of those two documents.

We present this program in partnership with the Government of the District of Columbia, the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia, and David Kent, and we thank them for their support.

Before we start, I’d like to let you know about two other programs coming up soon in this theater.

On Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m., Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore will all be here to share their personal journeys, marked by incredible successes and milestones, and offer a roadmap for other women of color. Their new book is called For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics, and a book signing will follow the program.

And on Wednesday, April 24, at 7 p.m., bestselling author Evan Thomas will be here to tell us about his new book, First: Sandra Day O’Connor, An American Life. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss will also join the discussion.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Check out their website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

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On this day 157 years ago, an act “For the Release of Certain Persons Held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia” became law. The DC Emancipation Act ended slavery in Washington, DC, freeing 3,100 enslaved individuals. For the past year, as war raged between the Union and the Confederacy, opponents of slavery had decried the scandal of slavery continuing to exist within the nation’s capital.

Eight and a half months later, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which did not free all enslaved persons, but sent a powerful signal that slavery would no longer be tolerated.

As a milestone in the long journey toward abolishing slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom. The story of the Emancipation Proclamation is one that would help to redefine freedom and eventually change the course of history. Both the Proclamation and the DC legislation represent a promise of hope, freedom, and justice that continues to inspire and resonate with the American people more than 150 years after its creation.

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Now it is my pleasure to welcome the Reverend Thomas Bowen to the stage.

He is the Director of the Office of Religious Affairs in the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Interim Director of the Mayor’s Office on African American Affairs and the Commission on Fathers, Men and Boys. He serves as a liaison to the faith community in the District of Columbia. He also provides support to the Mayor's Interfaith Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Reverend Bowen.


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Thank you, Reverend Bowen.

And now on to our panelists and a special musical tribute.

Our moderator is Edna Greene Medford, who is a professor, current chair, and former director of graduate and undergraduate programs in Howard University’s Department of History. Our panelists are Elizabeth Clark Lewis, professor of history at Howard University; Roger Davidson, associate professor of history and government at Bowie State University; and historian and author C. R. Gibbs.

Before we start our discussion, we have the special musical performance by the Artist Group Chorale of Washington. The chorale is composed of professional and community singers who have been delighting audiences in this region since 2008. They are under the direction of co-founder Kelvin Page, who is president of the Ben Holt Branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians and is active in teaching the performing arts.

Now they will perform the song “Soon I Will Be Done” by William Dawson.