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Historian Carroll “C.R.” Gibbs recounts path from slavery to emancipation in D.C.

September 28, 2012
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Gallaudet hosted Carroll “C.R.” Gibbs, a noted Washington, D.C. historian, who presented “Triumph of Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Civil War in the District of Columbia” in Elstad Auditorium on September 18.

Gibbs’ lecture was one of the events Gallaudet has planned in collaboration with the city’s Sesquicentennial Emancipation Celebration, a year-long series of activities that kicked-off on April 16 to celebrate the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, legislation drafted by Senator Henry Wilson (R-Mass.) freeing more than 3,000 slaves in D.C. Slavery in the United States, however, was not officially banished until after the Civil War ended in 1865.

The irony, said Gibbs, is that as the capital of the nation, the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” as the National Anthem proudly espouses, D.C. was heavily dependent on slave labor. He recounted a number of heart wrenching stories of families rendered apart, of human beings forced to live and toil in deplorable conditions under the yoke of slavery. He told the tale of a young enslaved woman who broke free from a holding pen in a desperate attempt to escape her captors, and rather than face imminent capture, jumped to her death in the icy Potomac River from what is now the 14th Street Bridge.

Gibbs pointed out various landmarks across the city where slaves were held in chains and leg irons awaiting sale, or plantations that used slave labor. Today, these places are residences, businesses, or serve in other capacities, none bearing any sign of their shameful past. But to Gibbs, who is familiar with them through his extensive research, they serve as constant reminders of the misery and hopelessness that enslaved African Americans suffered, and the high price that was paid so that future generations could be free. Gibbs passionately implored the audience, particularly young people of color, not to take these hardships for granted, reminding them that there are many people today to whom freedom remains a dream.

Following Gibbs’ presentation, a reception was held in the JSAC Multipurpose Room, and the author signed copies of several of his books.

On November 13, Timothy Wise, an internationally-acclaimed author and lecturer on the issues of racism, discrimination, and “white privilege,” will visit the campus to speak about slavery and emancipation, and the residual impact slavery has had on the African American community today. Following his talk, there will be an awards ceremony to recognize the winners of essay, multimedia, and poster contests hosted by Gallaudet for students enrolled in Clerc Center’s K-12 program, as well as university level students. K-12 students will design posters depicting slavery in the District of Columbia, or do research on the slavery issue in the Nation’s Capital. K-12 students will have the option of signing their research findings (vlogs) in American Sign Language (ASL) or writing a research paper. University students are to research the same subject and present their research in ASL (vlogs) or in the form of a research paper.

Also on November 13, the University will unveil a small slavery exhibit chronicling Amos Kendall and the issue of slavery. It was Kendall who donated the land that eventually became Gallaudet University. Kendall served as postmaster general of the United States during the administrations of presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, which was prior to the Civil War during the era of slavery. During his tenure as postmaster general, from 1835 to 1840, some of Kendall’s decisions had an immediate impact on the issue of slavery. For example, he all but single-handedly curtailed the communication efforts of abolitionists by making it illegal to disseminate written abolitionist literature in the South, and left it up to state postmasters to do the same. Kendall made this decision in an effort to minimize opportunities for inciting riots and violence.

28 September 2012

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