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Howard Conference
Race and Emancipation in the Age of Lincoln
April 16-18, 2009
Howard University – Washington, DC


Planners for Lincoln’s centennial in 1909 and sesquicentennial in 1959 overlooked the central issues of slavery and race.  In our times, we cannot.  We need to understand how Lincoln’s views of slavery and race may or may not have been similar to most of his contemporaries’.  In order to understand our history more completely, we also need to compare American emancipation to the status of freed slaves throughout the rest of the world.

In conjunction with the District of Columbia’s annual Emancipation Day celebrations in 2009, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and Howard University co-sponsored the conference “Race and Emancipation in the Age of Lincoln.”

The conference explored three broad themes over the course of three days:

The challenges to slavery;
Emancipation and revolution;
The meaning of emancipation.

April 16, 2009: “Challenges to Slavery”

Sessions explored the worldwide movement against slavery, challenges to slavery by the slaves themselves, and the intellectual roots of abolitionism.
April 17, 2009: “Emancipation and Revolution”

Participants compared the efficacy and extent of emancipations throughout the world and within the United States.  A special session focused on emancipation in the District of Columbia.
April 18, 2009: The “Meaning of Emancipation”

Sessions discussed African-American memory and emancipation, the connection between the Lincoln centennial and the founding of the NAACP in 1909, and the art and music of emancipation.  Panelists included both senior scholars and new and emerging scholars.

Public evening sessions:

Keynote address by distinguished author, Toni Morrison, on the topic of Lincoln and freedom;
Program held at the Lincoln Memorial commemorating Lincoln’s role in emancipation; and
Night of spirituals and gospel music related to emancipation.

All other sessions took place at Howard University’s School of Business Auditorium.

Race and Emancipation in the Age of Lincoln
April 16-18, 2009
Howard University, Washington, DC

At both the centennial and sesquicentennial commemorations of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, little note was taken of the theme of emancipation.  How ironic, given that our sixteenth president is celebrated globally for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.  In this bicentennial year, Howard University and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission seek to correct this oversight by placing the struggle for African American freedom at the center of the discourse.

“Race and Emancipation in the Age of Lincoln” is meant to enhance the growing national awareness of the link between present-day challenges concerning race and the unfinished business of the Civil War.  It examines Lincoln through the lens of the African American struggle for freedom and equality during the war and since.  Presenters will address the traditional image of Lincoln as emancipator while also exploring the contributions of countless African Americans whose actions undermined slavery and challenged Lincoln and the nation to fulfill the promises articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.  An accompanying exhibition of the same title, mounted from the university’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center collection, explores the conference themes in documents, prints and artifacts.  We encourage all to take the time to view this remarkable exhibition.

From its founding in 1867 in the spirit of emancipation, Howard University has confronted the legacies of slavery and racial discrimination and has promoted a greater appreciation for the extraordinary role of Africans and their descendants in the making of the modern world.  Our campus is a fitting site for this conference.

The dawn of Barack Obama’s unprecedented assent to the presidency – 200 years after Lincoln’s birth and nearly 150 years after the Civil War, offers encouragement for the future.  It provides an opportune moment to reflect on the work already accomplished and that which lies ahead.

Thursday, April 16:  Challenges to Slavery

1. Session I:  Ideological Origins of Emancipation

Flordeliz Bugarin, Asst. Professor of Anthorpology, Howard University. (moderator)
John Stauffer, Professor of English and African and African American Studies, Harvard University
Manisha Sinha, Associate Professor of African American Studies and History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


2. Session II: Quests for Freedom by Enslaved People

Jules Harrell, Professor of Psychology, Howard University (moderator)
Richard Blackett, Andrew Jackson Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Susan O’Donovan, Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and History, Harvard University
Eleanor Traylor, Professor and Chairperson, Department of English, Howard University


Friday, April 17:  Emancipation and Revolution

3. Session I:  Comparative Emancipations in The Americas

Yasmin DeGout, Associate Professor of English, Howard University (moderator)
Laurent Dubois, Professor of French and History, Duke University
Jeffrey Kerr-Ritchie, Assistant Professor of History, Howard University
Gordon Gill, Assistant Professor of African American Studies, Oberlin College


4. Session III:  Abraham Lincoln, Lawyer in the White House:  The Emancipation Proclamation as a Legal Document

Jay Stewart, Instructor, Department of Political Science, Howard University (moderator)
Frank Williams, Chief Justice (Ret.), Supreme Court of Rhode Island
Kurt Schmoke, Dean, School of Law, Howard University


5. Session IV:  Emancipation in the District

Edna Greene Medford, Associate Professor of History, Howard University (moderator)
Peter Hanes, DC Emancipation Coordinator, and DC – Reading is Fundamental
C.R. Gibbs, Historian/Independent Researcher, Washington, DC
Clarence Davis, Professor of History, University of the District of Columbia


Saturday, April 18:  The Meaning of Emancipation

6. Session I:  Conveying Ideas of Race and Emancipation at Lincoln Sites

Dr. Darrel Bigham, Chairman, Education Committee, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (moderator)
Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian
Frank Milligan, Director, President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home
Timothy Townsend, Historian, Lincoln Home and National Historic Site, National Park Service


7. Session II:  Picturing Freedom:  The Emancipation Proclamation in American Visual Memory

Thomas Battle, Director, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University (moderator)
Harold Holzer, Vice President for External Affairs, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Co-chair Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
Teresia Bush, Assistant Professor of Art History, Howard University