In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, recently hosted two special programs
Saturday, December 29th, was the sesquicentennial of the manumission of the enslaved people from three of George Washington Parke Custis' plantations, including the Arlington estate. This was commemorated with a special program featuring lectures by Dr. Roger Davidson of Coppin State University, C.R. Gibbs, the author of Black, Copper, & Bright: The District of Columbia's Black Civil War Regiment, and Arlington House Park Ranger Dean Bryson.
One of the highlights of the program was the performance of spirituals and hymns by two choirs from Arlington, Virginia – the Calloway United Methodist Church Mass Choir and the Mount Zion Men's Chorus.
On Monday, December 31st, a Watch Night vigil was held to honor and celebrate the moment when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. The Rev. Dr. Paula Miller-Lester of the First Baptist Church of Deanwood in Washington, D.C., delivered an inspirational message for the occasion. Dramatic readings of letters, poems, and speeches related to enslavement and emancipation were presented and performances were given by the Celebration Choir of Metropolitan Seventh-Day-Adventist Church and the Ottley Music School singers of Hyattsville, Maryland.
A few minutes before midnight participants made their way to the front of Arlington House, overlooking the Washington skyline, and observing a moment of silence. As part of the program, staff arranged for the Netherlands Carillon to be played at midnight. When the sounds of bells were heard in the distance, the crowd spontaneously erupted in song. The evening closed with a very moving reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and an inspirational benediction.
Total attendance at both programs was approximately 250 visitors, many of whom were members of local African-American churches that could trace their beginnings to Freedmen's Village located on the Arlington estate. The event allowed for visitors to Arlington House to make a meaningful connection to a site which they may have otherwise never felt was relevant to their own history.