Legislators Show Support for Emancipation Day Recognition

Gale Horton Gay | 2/20/2013, 12:13 p.m.

A bill that would make Nov. 1 a celebratory occasion, marking official recognition of the day in 1864 when enslaved people in Maryland were declared free, has cleared Maryland House and Senate hearings and awaits votes in both houses.

Maryland Delegate Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47), a co-sponsor of the bill, said she was pleased and encouraged that the bill made it through both hearings without any opposition. She said the bill has received "very strong bipartisan support," and she did not foresee any amendments being made to the bill.

"The time has come," said Ivey. "It's not controversial. People are excited about it."

Ivey noted that legislators generally are not eager to designate special dates because it can be overdone. However, this time lawmakers were "enthusiastic" and "attentive."

"We are almost at the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in Maryland," she said."We have been so busy honoring and recognizing the War of 1812. For many Americans the end of slavery is certainly more relevant to their lives."

During the Civil War, Maryland was a border state that remained in the Union under military occupation but the state's enslaved people did not receive freedom under a new state constitution until nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed those enslaved in the Confederacy. Lincoln issued the proclamation five days following the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md., in September 1862.

Sen. Karen S. Montgomery (D-Dist.14), also a co-sponsor of the bill, said she's inspired that Brookeville, Md., to which President James Madison fled in the War of 1812, freed its able-bodied slaves, cared for its youth and elderly and taught all residents (black and white) to read and write even before the Emancipation Proclamation was in place.

"Freedom is at the core of our identities as Marylanders and Americans," said Montgomery. "What a powerful feeling it must have been on that morning with the horror of slavery ended. It's fitting that we mark this turn in a struggle that continues through generations."

Ivey and Montgomery said they hope the bill will raise awareness of how each state took its own path to freedom.

The bill, which has 80 delegate co-sponsors and nine in the Senate, would require Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature to make it official. The first proclamation would take place on Nov. 1 if the bill is passed in the General Assembly this session.

Bill supporters are hopeful that this official recognition will encourage Marylanders to learn more about the subject and better understand their state's role in the expansion of freedom at the end of the Civil War.

"The more we embrace the facts of our past - the good, the bad, and the uncomfortable - the stronger we become as modern citizens," said David Taft Terry, the former executive director of the Reginald Lewis Museum in Baltimore and current director of Museum Studies at Morgan State University.