Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

160th Anniversary of Emancipation Commemorated Across Campus

Georgetown University commemorated the 160th anniversary of the Compensated Emancipation Act through multiple campus events. The act abolished slavery in Washington, D.C. 

Passed by Congress in 1862, the act abolished slavery in the District, freeing 3,000 individuals from enslavement. From April 12 to 27, Georgetown is hosting a variety of events to reflect on the injustices of slavery and recognize the university’s own active role in the history of enslavement. 

In 1838 the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, which ran Georgetown at the time, sold 314 enslaved people — now known as the GU272 — to financially sustain the university. 

Kirk Zieser/The Hoya | Georgetown University commemorates 160th anniversary of Emancipation Day with book launch, document exhibit, and interactive research project.

Events included an Emancipation Exhibit on April 12, which explored documents significant to Georgetown’s history with enslavement, such as documents recording the works of Jesuits in the Maryland community. An April 16 name-reading event honored the people enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits who ran the university in the 19th century. On April 19, the university also hosted a talk titled “Facing Georgetown’s History,” launching the new book “Facing Georgetown’s History: A Reader on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation.” 

The book was edited by Georgetown history professor Adam Rothman and Middlebury College assistant professor of history Elsa Barraza Mendoza. 

On April 27, the university will hold a virtual transcription event, hosted by the Georgetown Slavery Archive, which holds materials related to the Maryland Jesuits and the university’s deep ties to enslavement. At the event attendees can transcribe historical documents for digitalization. 

Mary Beth Corrigan, curator of the Georgetown Collections on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, said the Emancipation Act achieved the emancipation movement’s goal to abolish slavery in the District.  

“The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 has tremendous local significance: it ended slavery at Georgetown,” Corrigan wrote to The Hoya. “It also represented the fulfillment of one of the major goals of the abolitionist movement: to secure legislation abolishing slavery in the only jursidiction directly controlled by the U.S. Congress.”

When Congress emancipated enslaved people, the politicians chose to compensate slaveholders rather than enslaved people, Corrigan said.  

The Booth Family Center for Special Collections, an archive located in Georgetown’s Lauinger Library, contributes to the commemoration of District Emancipation every year, according to Corrigan. 

The special collection is home to many documents exploring the significance of emancipation in the District, including records related to the last enslaved man at Georgetown University, Aaron Edmonson, and pamphlets on Congressional debates over emancipation in the District, according to Corrigan.  

“Facing Georgetown’s History: A Reader on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation,” analyzes Georgetown’s history with slavery and its larger connection to the history of slavery in the United States, according to Rothman.  

“The book shows Georgetown’s manifold connections to slavery; in fact, Georgetown’s history is a microcosm of the whole history of American slavery, including the history of emancipation,” Rothman wrote to The Hoya.

This book can force the Georgetown community to confront the university’s legacy of slavery, according to Keith Gorman, director of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections. 

“The book helps support the GU community’s efforts of coming to terms with how slavery is so deeply intertwined in the history of this nation,” Gorman wrote to The Hoya. “It also creates a space for community members to better understand the continuing legacy of the enslavement of individuals and communities. In a sense, the book brings the archive to the individual reader.” 

Many of the documents included in this book were drawn from the university’s own historical records, according to Gorman. The first section of the work looks at the history of slavery in the broad context of American Catholicism and the second portion focuses more specifically on Georgetown’s history of slavery, Gorman said.  

Rothman said it is crucial to understand the history of emancipation. 

“Understanding how chattel slavery ended in Washington, D.C., is an important lesson in the possibility of fundamental and even revolutionary change in American history, as well as the limits of change,” Rothman wrote.

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