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Annapolis Group Works to Create Maryland Emancipation Day

Maryland abolished slavery on Nov. 1, 1864—more than a year before the rest of the nation.

Politicians and residents gathered at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis Thursday to honor the 148th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Maryland.

“I always thought that when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, that’s what did it,” Mayor Josh Cohen said.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, signed on Jan. 1, 1863, only freed slaves in states that were in rebellion. It left slavery in place in Maryland until the free state amended its constitution on Nov. 1, 1864—more than a year before the nation abolished slavery with the passage of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Alderman Richard Israel (D-1st Ward) brought Maryland's unique place in Civil War history to Cohen's attention last year when he sponsored a resolution to recognize Nov. 1 as Emancipation Day in Annapolis.

Janice Hayes-Williams, chairwoman of a new city-sponsored commission, hopes to have the date recognized statewide by the 150th anniversary in 2014.

"We're getting it off the ground," Hayes-Williams said. "I think we are the first municipality in the state to have legislation written that recognizes Emancipation Day."

She's contracted renowned quilter Joan Gaither to sew a quilt depicting Maryland's abolition of slavery for the sesquicentennial celebration. 

Hayes-Williams said she's working with House Speaker Mike Busch (D-Annapolis) to display the quilt inside the Statehouse in 2014. Ideally she'd like it to hang on the wall of the room where lawmakers passed the state's third constitution.

Although Maryland's lawmakers abolished slavery before most Union states, it was a close, contentious vote, said Chris Haley, research director for the history of slavery at Maryland's State Archives.

"Maryland was very, very conflicted at the time our freedom came," Haley said. "Initially, the vote for the new constitution didn't pass."

The first vote failed by approximately 2,000 votes. Anne Arundel County overwhelmingly opposed abolishing slavery with 80 percent of its citizens voting against the new constitution.

For the second ballot, officials encouraged Union soldiers stationed in Maryland to vote and the constitution passed by 375 votes.

Hayes-Williams said the 2012 celebration luncheon and presentation at the museum marked the culmination of 14 years of work on her part. In 2011, she held a smaller reception absent of lawmakers at the Franklin Street museum.

"It's been a long road," Hayes-Williams said. "Now it's time to bring Emancipation Day to Maryland."

ted November 08, 2012 at 01:40 PM
“I always thought that when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, that’s what did it,” Mayor Josh Cohen said. Such a shame that pricey Key School education was lost on the boy wonder. As a fellow survivor of the artists' colony, I know that teaching history is one thing they do well there. Also, this article seems to suggest that Maryland was particularly progressive about emancipation, and freed the slaves long before any other state. However, it is crucial to understand that Lincoln's signature on a piece of paper didn't free anybody--surely not Maryland slaves, to whom the state did not grant freedom for another two years, as the article notes. This would explain that brief domestic skirmish our ancestors surely noticed. I'm not really sure why this article reads as a pr piece for Civil War era-Maryland, and attempts to coat those who governed it with a big, progressive paintbrush of magnanimity. But apparently, not all of us stayed awake through our history lessons.

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