D.C. Emancipation Day was celebrated a little late this year, but that didn't keep Loretta Carter Hanes from beaming all the way through the 90-minute ceremony yesterday at Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill.
She had canceled her annual April 16 celebration because she didn't have the $50 she needed for a wreath to place at the Emancipation Monument. In response to a newspaper story about her plight, an unidentified person donated money for a large wreath, and a program was organized with the assistance of the National Park Service, the Washington Historical Society and others.
Hanes told the crowd of about 50 that they could count on a celebration next year on the actual anniversary. "Prayer and music and a strong belief in God have pulled us together, and we will carry forth toward D.C. Emancipation Day 2000," she said.
D.C. Emancipation Day marks the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed an emancipation order for about 3,000 slaves living in the District of Columbia. Unlike the Jan. 1, 1863, order that affected slaves in the rest of the country, the "Act for the Release of Certain Persons Held in Service or Labor in the District of Columbia" allowed compensation for the owners.
For years, a city celebration called Jubilee Day was held on the anniversary of that date.
On April 14, 1876, the Emancipation statue -- featuring a gaunt Lincoln encouraging a newly freed slave to rise up and break his shackles -- was dedicated in Lincoln Park. It was paid for by emancipated people, with the first donation of $5 coming from Charlotte Scott, of Virginia, according to a plaque on the statue.
The dedication was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant and his Cabinet, with former slave and well-known abolitionist Frederick Douglass serving as one of the main speakers.
Until 1922, when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated, ceremonies regarding Lincoln were always held in the Capitol Hill park.
The ceremony that Hanes reinstituted in 1993 was to mark both Jubilee Day and the dedication of the statue.
Not everyone shares her enthusiasm for the statue. Before the ceremony, Capitol Hill resident Dawn Craig, who was out jogging yesterday morning, approached Hanes to tell her that she did not like the statue.
"Look at how the black man is depicted," she said. "It is as though he is a dog and Lincoln is about to pet him."
Hanes, who said later that she had heard this criticism often, told Craig, "You can't judge a book by its cover. If you knew the true history, you'd feel differently. This may be a new beginning for you."
She told Craig that the black man depicted on the statue was based on the likeness of a real emancipated slave named Archer Alexander.
In the audience yesterday was Margery Eliot, who recently used her own money to republish a small book, "The Story of Archer Alexander, From Slavery to Freedom." Eliot is the widow of the great-great-grandson of the Rev. William G. Eliot, who knew Alexander personally, had rescued him several times from slave catchers and wrote the book about him. William Eliot also was one of the men who formed a committee to accept donations for the statue.
John Hales, superintendent for the national parks on the east side of Washington, said statues in the parks are more than decoration -- they are points of education.
"We need to get the public interested in these statues," he said yesterday. "The African American community, in particular, needs to get more interested in the parks and their history. These statues are one way we can do that."
CAPTION: Loretta Carter Hanes, left, and Margery Eliot talk after the ceremony at the Emancipation statue in Lincoln Park. Hanes didn't have the $50 she needed to buy a wreath to hold the ceremony in April.