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Dr. Sharita Jacobs Thompson, Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration co-producer and resident scholar, brings readers back to the beginning of Hill Center’s celebration in 2015. We are thrilled that this series is returning to Hill Center, and we hope to see you at the next FREE event on June 15th: A moderated conversation with MPD Police Chief Contee and Dr. George Derek Musgrove. Read Dr. Thompson’s article below to learn about the origins of this series and this year’s events.
We hoped that this format would have a broad public appeal and would engage attendees in a deeper understanding of the African American experience during the Civil War.-Dr. Sharita Jacobs Thompson
On the morning of April 15, 2015, I made the trek to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland, to pick up its traveling exhibit, The Emotional Toll of War. That afternoon, I pulled into the driveway at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital to unload the cargo. Within 15 minutes, Frank Robinson (Hill Center’s “Mr. Everything”) unpacked and assembled the display. This was the first sign that after more than a year of planning and preparation, the kickoff of the first annual Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration had arrived.
I vividly remember my first conversation with Mary Ann Brownlow, producer of the Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration. She had read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s piece “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” in which he argues for a more inclusive narrative, and became intrigued. During that first conversation, she also shared her belief that the District of Columbia’s Emancipation Day, which commemorates the end of slavery in the nation’s capital and is a citywide holiday, would provide the perfect platform to examine the Civil War and its aftermath from the African American perspective. I agreed, and our journey commenced. We embarked upon a series of meetings with Hill Center board members, our advisory board of historians, vendors, and each other.
On April 16, 2015, after much brainstorming, meetings, fundraising, e-mails, and discussions, we had four days of free and public events that brought together a diverse group of prominent scholars, artists, and public figures for a series of moderated conversations. We hoped that this format would have a broad public appeal and would engage attendees in a deeper understanding of the African American experience during the Civil War.
During that first year, programs included moderated conversations on Coates’s central thesis in his Atlantic article “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?”, The Meaning of Emancipation, African American Foodways, Sickness and the Civil War, and Reparations. In subsequent years, we explored topics such as Racial Passing, Black Women in Slavery and Freedom, the History of Race and Democracy in DC, The Life of Mayor Marion Barry, the 1968 Riots in DC, African American Women and the History of Sexual Violence, and many more. We welcomed renowned scholars and prominent figures such Drs. Greg Carr, Ibram X, Kendi, Marcia Chatelain, Edna Greene Medford, Nikki Taylor, Daryl Scott, as well as Innocence Project Executive Director, Christina Swarns and Howard Law School Dean, Danielle Holley-Walker, The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum, Chef Carla Hall, and The New York Times’s Rachel Swarns.
In 2020 and 2021, the celebration was suspended to observe Covid-19 protocols. In 2022, Drummond has returned! This year marks the beginning of a yearlong celebration. Like in previous years, programs will examine a bevy of topics that illuminate historical and contemporary topics that impact the lives of African Americans. This year’s celebration was launched May 21 with Prologue DC’s Mapping Segregation walking tour and is followed with a June 15 moderated conversation between Dr. George Derek Musgrove (Associate Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County) co-author of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital and Washington Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert J. Contee III. This conversation will explore Chief Contee’s compelling personal story to his tenure as a member and eventually leader of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.
We look forward to welcoming you back to Hill Center to engage in a series of diverse and robust conversations, which has become the hallmark of the Benjamin Drummond Emancipation Day Celebration.
Thanks to our sponsors!