Posts Tagged ‘Emancipation Proclamation’

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Portrait of John J. Crittenden

I have not been writing as often in this blog recently because several weeks ago I fell and broke some ribs.  So I have been unable to ride.  No, I did not fall while riding a bike.  However, it was related to biking.  I wanted to go mountain biking on a section of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail near Mount Vernon.  However, not being an experienced mountain biker and having never previously ridden on that particular mixed-use trail, I decided to hike it first to scout it out and see if it is within my skill set to try mountain biking there.  It was while I was hiking that my foot got caught under an exposed tree root and I fell on a rocky part of the trail, breaking several ribs.  So I decided that since I could not even walk it without hurting myself, perhaps I should first get a little more experience mountain biking on easier trails before going back there to ride.

Having given my ribs enough time to heal, I now feel much better.  But since I haven’t ridden in almost a month, I decided to transition back into riding and make sure that I don’t overdo it.  So for today’s lunchtime ride, I rode to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, to see a painting of John J. Crittenden. He was a politician from the state of Kentucky, and represented that state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and twice served as the U.S. Attorney General.  I went there because tomorrow is the anniversary of Congress’ passage of the Crittenden Resolution, which was named after him.

On July 25th in 1861, just three and a half months after the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution (also referred to as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution). The resolution declared that the war was being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, including taking any actions against the “peculiar” institution of slavery. The war was fought not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States,” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery remaining intact.

This meant that for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North.  It was not until President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that the abolishment of slavery became a goal.  The Crittenden Resolution is sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the previous 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds margin in both houses of Congress and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.

Today it is difficult to comprehend American society, as it existed back then, in which the institution of slavery was supported or tolerated by the public, and endorsed by the Federal government. However, as difficult as it is to comprehend, we must try. We must try to understand so we can not only understand our own history, but because slavery still exists in this world.  Currently there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world – people forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away. Since slavery feeds directly into the global economy, it makes sense that we would be concerned by the ways in which slavery flows into our homes through the products we buy and the investments we make. Slaves harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast, make charcoal used to produce steel in Brazil, weave carpets in India—the list goes on. These products reach our stores and our homes. So think before you buy, because slavery is not just a thing of the past.

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The African-American Civil War Museum

Whether it’s referred to as the War to Preserve the Union or the War to End Northern Aggression, American Civil War history is all too often thought of in terms of white Yankees from the North fighting against white Southern Rebels, with African Americans relegated to the sidelines of history as their fate was decided for them. The truth, however, is much different.

In 1861 before the Civil War broke out, African Americans comprised about 14 percent of the country’s population, compared to 12.2 percent in the most recent U.S. census.  There were approximately four million slaves in the United States, and almost a half a million free African Americans. But only about one percent of all African Americans in the country lived in the North at that time.

Although African Americans had served in the U.S. Army and Navy during the American Revolution and in the War of 1812, they were initially not permitted to enlist on either side during the Civil War. In the North, a 1792 law barred them from bearing arms in the U.S. Army. Additionally, President Abraham Lincoln did not support it at that time because he was concerned that accepting black men into the military would cause more of the border states to secede. Free black men were finally permitted to enlist in the Union Army in late 1862, following the passage of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, and Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the South, General Robert E. Lee eventually convinced the Confederate Congress to begin enlisting black soldiers near the end of the war. The legislation required the consent of the slave and his master, and would confer the rights of a freeman after the war.

By the end of the Civil War in 1865, it is estimated that 209,145 African-Americans had served as soldiers, participating on both sides, although to a far lesser degree in the South than in the North.  Eventually, several thousand blacks were enlisted in the Rebel cause, but they could not begin to balance out the nearly 200,000 blacks who fought in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) for the Union, and it was too late in the war to make a difference regardless of the numbers.  All together, over 60,000 died over the course of the war, with sickness causing thirty times more deaths than battle.

The African American Civil War Museum, where I went on this lunchtime bike ride, is dedicated to preserving and telling the stories of these men, and African Americans’ involvement and impact during the American Civil War.  The museum is located in the historic Grimke Building at 1925 Vermont Avenue (MAP), just a couple of blocks west of The African American Civil War Memorial in the Shaw neighborhood’s historic U Street Corridor, an area traditionally considered to be the heart of African-American entertainment and theater in the city.

The museum opened in January of 1999, with a mission “to serve the educational needs of its local, national, and international community with a high-quality and effective learning experience while interpreting the history of the USCT and the community life of African Americans prior to, and after, the American Civil War.” This is achieved through the communication of information and stories using historic documents, photographs, newspaper articles, replicas of period clothing and uniforms, military weaponry and other artifacts, seminars by staff, and historic presentations by volunteer re-enactors. With more than 200,000 visitors each year, the museum serves as a unique resource for teachers, scholars, students and professionals of museum studies, as well as the general public. And through the museum’s African American Civil War Descendants Registry, the museum documents the family trees of more than 2,000 descendants of the men who served with the USCT.

As I was leaving the museum, I couldn’t help but think that its importance is even greater at a time like now, when the Confederate flag is getting so much attention and causing debate and divisiveness around the country. The museum enables visitors to instead learn about the largely unknown role of those 209,145 black men who fought for freedom and to preserve the union, the 23 who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the emergence of three important amendments to the Constitution — the 13th, 14th and 15th — which ended slavery, gave blacks equal protection under the law, and guaranteed black men the right to vote.  All in all, I’d say that’s not a bad achievement for a museum.

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A Memorial within a Memorial

Our nation’s capitol is so replete with memorials that there are sometimes actually memorials within other memorials.  Such is the case with the inscription on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial which commemorates the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood when he gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

It was August 28, 1963.  Approximately 250,000 people participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which would later prove to be a high point of the American civil rights movement, descended on D.C. and occupied the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial and surrounded the reflecting pool. It was there, in the shadow of the memorial honoring the president who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves a century earlier, that Rev. King addressed those in attendance.

The elevated spot on the steps of the memorial was not only chosen for its symbolism and for its practical value in addressing the crowd, but for security reasons as well. Surrounded on three sides, it was thought that the spot was ideal in that if an incident occurred it would be able to be easily contained.

Twenty years later, on August 28, 1983, crowds gathered again to mark the 20th Anniversary of the March on Washington and reflect on the progress that had been made in the civil rights movement, and to recommit to the ideals of the march in correcting injustices.

In August of 2003 on the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington, the landing eighteen steps below Lincoln’s statue from where the speech was given was engraved to read, “I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King, Jr. – March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – August 28, 1963.” This was still several years prior to the construction and opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and is considered by some to be D.C.’s original memorial to Rev. King.

On this bike ride I rode to this memorial within a memorial, officially located at 2 Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP) to stand on this historic ground and reflect on what occurred there in the past.

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The Emancipation Memorial

On this bike ride I went to see The Emancipation Memorial in the heart of Lincoln Park.  The largest urban park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in northeast D.C., Lincoln Park is bounded by 11th Street on the west, 13th Street on the east, the westbound lanes of East Capitol Street on the North, and East Capitol Street’s eastbound lanes on the south (MAP).  The park is situated one mile directly east of the United States Capitol Building, and four blocks northeast of Historic Eastern Market.  It is one of the oldest parks in D.C., having been included in Pierre L’Enfant’s original 1791 design plan for the national capitol city.  Lincoln Park is maintained by the National Park Service.

The Emancipation Memorial is also known as the Freedman’s Memorial or the Emancipation Group. It was also initially referred to as the “Lincoln Memorial” before the more prominent so-named memorial was built at the western end of the National Mall almost fifty years later.  Designed and sculpted by Thomas Ball and erected in 1876, The Emancipation Memorial depicts President Abraham Lincoln in his role of “The Great Emancipator” freeing a male African American slave.  Lincoln holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand, resting on a plinth.  The ex-slave is depicted crouching at the president’s feet, wearing only a loin cloth.  The former slave’s broken shackles lie at his side.

The bronze statue is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.,” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The dedication ceremony for this “original Lincoln memorial” was held on April 14, 1876, the 11th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination.  President Ulysses S. Grant attended the ceremony, as did members of his cabinet, and congressmen and senators.  Frederick Douglass, the famed African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman, provided the keynote address to a crowd of approximately 25,000 who were in attendance on that day.

The monument has long been the subject of controversy and a source of mixed feelings.   According to the National Park Service, the monument was paid for solely by freed slaves, primarily from African American Union veterans.  However, despite being paid for by African Americans, some historians condemned it as paternalistic, portraying Lincoln as the savior of a race that couldn’t save itself.  Critics claim that it ignores the active role blacks played in ending slavery, and perpetuates racist ideology because of the supplicant position of the freed slave.  Others recognize that the imagery of the statue isn’t ideal, but embrace it nonetheless as part of history.  They derive its meaning and significance from knowing that it meant something to the people of its time. Perhaps the various thoughts and feelings about The Emancipation Memorial are best summed up by Anise Jenkins, president of an advocacy group for D.C. statehood named “Stand Up! For Democracy.”

In commenting about the statue at a recent Emancipation Day ceremony in Lincoln Park, she stated, “It’s part of our history and it depends what you bring to it.  If you’re ashamed of our history of slavery, then that’s what you bring to it. But we have to be honest. Enslaved people loved Abraham Lincoln. They called him Father Abraham. You can question it from a modern perspective, but you can’t ignore its significance.”

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The Archives of The United States of America

The Archives of The United States of America

The National Archives and Records Administration is the nation’s record keeper. Many people know the National Archives as the custodian of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – the three main formative documents of the U.S. and its government. It is also the keeper of a copy of the Magna Carta, confirmed by Edward I in 1297. Other important historical documents maintained at the National Archives include the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the Emancipation Proclamation, and collections of photography, art works, and other historically and culturally significant artifacts.  But they also maintain the public records about and for ordinary American citizens, such as textual and microfilm records relating to genealogy, census data, American Indians, the District of Columbia, maritime matters, charts, architectural and engineering drawings, and the records of the U.S. Congress and all Federal government agencies.

Opened as its original headquarters in 1935, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building is located approximately halfway between The White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, between 7th and 9th Streets at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in downtown D.C. Known informally as Archives I, the building has entrances on Pennsylvania Avenue and on Constitution Avenue just north of the National Mall.

Designed by architect John Russell Pope, the National Archives and Records Administration building was intended to be on par with the other national monuments and symbols on the National Mall. The massive building covers two full city blocks, and is among the most impressive and architecturally striking buildings on the National Mall. During the cornerstone ceremony conducted in 1933, President Herbert Hoover stated, “This temple of our history will appropriately be one of the most beautiful buildings in America, an expression of the American soul.”

The National Archives building is highly decorated with pediments, sculptures, medallions, and classical carvings. Imbedded in its size and beauty, the building has specific messages and symbolism in the inscriptions that encircle the building, and the sculptures that surround it.

The inscriptions declare the building’s goals. On the west side of the building is inscribed, “The glory and romance of our history are here preserved in the chronicles of those who conceived and builded the structure of our nation.” The inscription on the east side of the building states, “This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanency of our national institutions.” And the south side inscription reads, “The ties that bind the lives of our people in one indissoluble union are perpetuated in the archives of our government and to their custody this building is dedicated.”

The four massive statues around the National Archives building were each was cut from a single block of limestone weighing 125 tons. Sculptor Robert I. Aitken’s statue “The Future” sits on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the building to the left of the main entrance. The young woman appears to lift her eyes from the pages of an open book and gaze into the future. Its base is inscribed with a line inspired by Shakespeare’s play The Tempest: “What is Past is Prologue.” To the right of the main entrance is another sculpture by Aitken, entitled “The Past,” which depicts an aged figure with a scroll and closed book imparting the knowledge of past generations.”  The words on the base enjoin, “Study the Past.”

To the rear of the building on Constitution Avenue sit “Heritage” and “Guardianship,” both sculpted by James Earle Fraser. Heritage is located to the right of the entrance, and depicts a woman who holds a child and a sheaf of wheat in her right hand as symbols of growth and hopefulness. In her left hand she protects an urn, symbolic of the ashes of past generations. The base is inscribed, “The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that Brings Forth the Harvest of the future.” And finally, “Guardianship,” to the left of the rear entrance, uses martial symbols, such as the helmet, sword, and lion skin to convey the need to protect the historical record for future generations. This sculpture is inscribed “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”

A visit to the National Archives can be very productive in terms of research and information. But the building itself can make a visit worthwhile, even if you don’t go inside.

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