By JONATHAN TILOVE
April 12, 2007
c.2007 Newhouse News Service
WASHINGTON _ Taxpayers already get an extra day to file their returns this year because April 15 lands on a Sunday. No surprise there.
But they get an additional day of grace thanks to an 80-year-old, house-bound Washington woman by the name of Loretta Carter Hanes.
It was Hanes who for many years campaigned to have the nation’s capital take appropriate note of Emancipation Day _ April 16, 1862 _ when Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Washington, D.C. That was almost nine months before the president signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in those portions of the Confederacy not under Union control. Hanes’ efforts culminated in the District of Columbia declaring April 16 a legal public holiday in 2005.
Under an old federal statute, a tax deadline cannot fall on a legal holiday, and, as the law reads, “the term `legal holiday’ means a legal holiday in the District of Columbia.”
As the Internal Revenue Service belatedly realized (all of its documents mentioning the April 16 deadline were already printed and in distribution), this meant that the April 15 deadline, bumped once because it fell on a Sunday, had to be bumped again to April 17.
Not that anyone is complaining _ Hanes least of all. For her, it provides a providential, teachable moment about an almost entirely overlooked piece of American history.
“This is not D.C. history,” she said from her apartment on 16th Street, a few miles due north of the White House. “This is American history. This is world history.”
Hanes first stumbled upon mention of the abolition of slavery in the District while poring over the Lincoln archives at the Martin Luther King Library downtown. That was 17 years ago.
“I had lived here all my life and I had never heard of it,” she said.
Mostly forgotten in modern times, for decades after the Civil War, Emancipation Day “was the height of the African-American social calendar in the nation’s capital,” according to C.R. Gibbs, who wrote about it in 1985 in The Washington Post.
Over the years, Gibbs has become joined “hip and thigh,” as he put it, with Hanes and her son Peter in their efforts to restore Emancipation Day to a place of importance in the national memory.
Gibbs said Lincoln first sought to end slavery in the District while serving in the House in the 1840s.
Then, in 1862, visitors to wartime Washington were shocked to see shackled slaves along Pennsylvania Avenue. On April 16, 1862, Lincoln signed legislation abolishing slavery in the District and paying the former slaveholders compensation, a commonplace in the history of slavery abolition elsewhere, but the only example of the federal government doing so.
At the time, Gibbs said, the district’s population comprised 60,000 whites, 11,000 free blacks and 3,100 enslaved people of African descent. Altogether, the federal government paid about a million dollars for the slaves’ freedom.
Hanes has in her possession a copy of the Treasury report accounting for how much was paid for each and every one of them.
She said her own apartment building is on land that, along with the National Zoo and parts of Rock Creek Park, was part of the Peirce plantation. There in the Treasury report is an accounting of the $3,625.40 taxpayers paid to compensate Joshua Peirce for the loss of 10 slaves _ from $613.20 for Thomas Rhodes to $21.90 for Wm. Nicholas Rustin.
Hanes wants to see the contents of the Treasury document made readily available, on the Web and in exhibits in the Capitol and elsewhere.
“This is our Vietnam wall,” she said.
It was Hanes who persuaded the National Archives to periodically place on public display the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln signed on Jan. 1, 1863.
Hanes never felt that distant from the slave past.
As a child in D.C., she lived next door to the Stoddard Baptist Home, where she listened to stories at the knee of Brother Jordan, one of the “inmates,” as they called them, who, then more than 100 years of age, had grown up in slavery.
“`Chillin,’ he would say, `I want you to bring others across the bridge of life,” Hanes recalled.
Called by her ancestors, she made it her life’s mission.
In 1966, she co-founded Reading is Fundamental with the wife of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and remains president of the D.C. chapter.
Her aunt _ Etta Flossie Carter Weaver, who was a private cook to Gen. John J. Pershing when he was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center _ had always said the family was descended from slaves of George Washington’s at Mount Vernon. When the aunt died in 1977 at age 89, Hanes traced the family tree and found that, indeed, it led back to Suckey Bay, a Mount Vernon slave emancipated after Washington‘s death.
“I’m still waiting for my inheritance,” Hanes said.
Peter Hanes would like to see Emancipation Day treated with the same respect and dedication as Martin Luther King Day. He would like to see the District market it like the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Along the way, Hanes said, “People ask, `Why are you stirring this up?’ It’s healing to me. I’m sure it will be healing to others.”
Her husband’s in a nursing home. She gets out only for doctor visits.
“I’m sort of done in right now. I’m keeping it together with glue,” she said. “And determination.”
As for that extra day’s grace for filing her taxes, Hanes doesn’t need it; “They’re gone, thank goodness.”
And, according to the IRS, the next time Emancipation Day might delay the filing deadline is 2011.