- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

Honors were bestowed on two black leaders yesterday as part of District of Columbia Emancipation Day, marking 144 years since slaves gained their freedom in the District.

A proclamation was presented to Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, who wrote the bill that made the annual celebration of the District’s emancipation an official holiday on April 16, 2005.

A Lifetime Achievement Award and a golden key to the city were presented to Dorothy I. Height, president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women, for her more than 70 years of fighting to overcome racial discrimination and social injustice.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams expressed pride during the presentations, saying: “The proclamation in the District signaled the Emancipation Proclamation for the nation,” but “the journey isn’t finished. We need voting rights. Use it as a day of celebration. Use it as a day of dedication.”

President Lincoln, in effect, created Emancipation Day for the District when he signed the slave freedom proclamation on April 16, 1862. About nine months later, he signed a national proclamation, banning slavery in all states.

One difference between the proclamations was that the federal government spent about $1 million to compensate Unionist masters when their 3,100 D.C. slaves were freed. The District of Columbia Emancipation Act is the only example of compensated emancipation in the United States, according to the National Archives.

The proclamation and award were presented yesterday afternoon about two blocks from the White House in Freedom Plaza along Pennsylvania Avenue, which was once known as Abraham Lincoln Highway. A bell-ringing ceremony at the Old Post Office Pavilion, a concert and fireworks rounded out the festivities.

Ms. Height was grand marshal of the parade. Mr. Williams and Mr. Orange rode in a white, roofed carriage drawn by a prancing roan workhorse.

Most other dignitaries arrived in cars. Former Mayor Marion Barry, a Democrat who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council, signed autographs before stepping up to the viewing stage.

Ms. Height elicited laughs as she received the key to the city, saying, “It’s a great temptation to receive the key to the city before the stores close.”

Ms. Height was born in Richmond but moved with her parents to Rankin, Pa. By 1937, she was assistant director of the Harlem YWCA in New York City and caught the attention of Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women.

She subsequently became president of the council and created the Dorothy I. Height Leadership Institute and National Centers for African American Women in the District. She received the Citizens Medal Award from President Reagan in 1989 and the Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1994. She also was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

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