By Leva levitra
Tuesday May 21, 2013 | May 2013 Issue
On February 22, Presidents’ Day, President Barack Obama and former first lady Laura Bush broke ground for the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. The National Museum, which was first proposed by black Civil War veterans, will chronicle more than 200 years of America’s African American experience. The construction ceremonies were held just two months shy of the 150th anniversary of The District of Columbia Emancipation Act.
President Abraham Lincoln signed The DC Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862. His goal: to end slavery in the United States capital. The Civil War was raging and anti-slavery advocates were eager to rid the District of “the national shame.”
“The total number of slaves in the District of Columbia, when summed up, is 3185,” The Alexandria Gazette then reported.
Until the 1860s Abraham Lincoln had been only “an occasional critic of slavery.” The DC Emancipation Act provided not only for emancipation, but also compensation and colonization. In short, it sounded slavery’s death knell.
Lincoln’s emancipation efforts continued with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The Civil War, a costly conflict of staggering proportions, was taking its toll. A prompt end was needed and so Lincoln declared: “That on the 1st day of January 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
The Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to slaves living in “Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except certain parishes), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the 48 counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation was not issued.” Lincoln drafted the preliminary text while residing at his hilltop Cottage, 140 Rock Creek Church Road NW in the District of Columbia.
American slavery and involuntary servitude were not legally abolished until 1866, following ratification of the 13th Amendment. Yet all agree the effort to finally eliminate slavery began with The District of Columbia Emancipation Act. District of Columbia emancipation celebrations were held annually from 1866 until 1901. The celebrations resumed in April 2002.
Has slavery—in fact—been abolished? Human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year industry and at least 12 million people are enslaved worldwide. The number today is higher than the number of blacks held at the height of the 19th century trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Remarkably, a pimp with three enslaved prostitutes can make $588,000 a year. On February 23, United States Attorney for the Eastern Division of Virginia Neil H. MacBride and FBI Assistant Director James W. McJunkin announced that an Alexandria jury had convicted Rances Ulices Amaya of sex trafficking five girls, ages 14-17, for the purpose of prostitution. Amaya, a violent machete-toting MS-13 leader, exploited teen-age girls for sex and profit.
The underage girls were forced to have sex with 8-10 paying customers per day, sometimes seven days per week, including gang rape or rapid succession sex. The encounters took place in motels, hotels, apartments and cars in the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia area. Many of Amaya’s customers were solicited from convenience stores in the Culmore and Chiriluaga neighborhoods.
President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, also The DC Emancipation Act, invites area residents to tour The Cottage’s newest exhibit, Can You Walk Away? Modern Slavery Human Trafficking in the United States. The exhibit is sponsored in partnership with the Polaris Project.
“The President’s Cottage is the cradle of emancipation,” Cottage Director Erin Carlton Mast said, “and we have a public obligation to explore the modern impact of Lincoln’s presidency and ideas. It is outrageous that slavery is a growing problem in this country, especially when the shackles of slavery were legally abolished nearly 150 years ago.”
In 2000 the Trafficking Victims Protection Act became the first federal law to address the problem of human trafficking. It takes only 48 hours for a trafficker to buttonhole a runaway child. The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization also headquartered in the District, operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s toll-free 24-hour Hotline (1-888-373-7888).
“The three elements of current servitude are force, fraud and coercion,” Polaris Project Executive Director & CEO Bradley Myles explained. “While the forms of labor and services differ the slaveholder almost always enjoys wealth.” The Polaris Project advocates for stronger federal and state laws.
Human trafficking is a signature crusade for Virginia State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30). This year the northern Virginian convinced a divided General Assembly to pass a bill requiring the Virginia Department of Education to provide human trafficking training materials to local school division staff, including strategies for the prevention of trafficking children. Domestic pimps target girls as young as 12 years old.
“Fighting human trafficking should be top priority for all of us,” Virginia State Senator Ebbin noted. “With recent reports of growing gang involvement in sex trafficking, we must multiply our efforts in fighting this terrible crime.”
Over 400 Virginians called the confidential National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2011, more people than in 2010 and 2009 combined. Of the total: 36 calls were from Alexandria, 30 from Arlington, 20 from Fairfax and 10 from Fredericksburg. The District of Columbia is also among the top ten call-in states.
“The United States was founded on the principle that all people are born with an unalienable right to freedom,” President Obama proclaimed in 2010. “As a Nation, we have known moments of great darkness and greater light; and dim years of chattel slavery illuminated and brought to an end by President Lincoln’s actions and a painful Civil War. Yet even today, the darkness and inhumanity of enslavement exists.”
“Sadly, slavery did not end in this country with the Emancipation Proclamation,” Myles concluded. “When we show people the realities of what victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery face, it is nearly impossible to walk away without joining the growing movement to fight these human rights abuses.”
President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, a National Trust for Historic Preservation property, is open daily. The property’s mission is to nurture reflection and discourse on liberty, justice and equality. Can You Walk Away?—which is available through August 31, 2013—encourages such exchange. On Sunday, April 15th President Lincoln’s Cottage celebrates D.C. Emancipation Day with afternoon activities on the south lawn. For more information, including Cottage tours, visit www.lincolncottage.org. Admission applies.
Columnist’s Note: April is also the 100th anniversary of the District of Columbia’s National Cherry Blossom Festival. A five-week centennial celebration is planned, from March 20 until April 27. The Yoshino cherry trees were a gift from Tokyo, Japan.
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