One of the pivotal events of the American Civil War came with the issuance of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
Although this document signaled an important policy shift with respect to enslaved people, there were no direct effects since the proclamation was limited only to declaring those slaves in rebellious states to be free, an edict which could not be enforced. Slave-holding border states, such as Maryland, that remained part of the Union, were not addressed. It wasn’t until Maryland ratified a new constitution, which went into effect on Nov. 1, 1864, that its slaves were formally freed. A few months later, in January 1865, Congress approved the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery, to be ratified in December that year.
Despite the many challenges that remained, Frederick’s first celebration of Emancipation was carried out in 1865. The Frederick Examiner published an account that described over 3,000 people in attendance. This was the beginning of a decades-long tradition commemorating Emancipation in Frederick and the formation of the local Emancipation Association, in large part for that purpose. There are several sites associated with this important institution, the most permanent being the building constructed by the Emancipation Association at 158-160 W.All Saints St. in 1934. This building represents one of the many on West All Saints Street that housed services, institutions, and organizations specifically for the black patrons during the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era. As a result, the neighborhood became a vibrant hub for Frederick County’s black community during the twentieth century.
An 1867 account by local diarist Jacob Engelbrecht described the year’s celebration as including a procession that started on East Street, then traversed Patrick, Market, South, and Bentz streets before heading two miles north of the city to Worman’s woods to hear speeches and adopt resolutions. Worman’s Woods, near Harmony Grove, was the site of Emancipation celebrations in at least the following two years—1868 and 1869—by Engelbrecht’s account. His entry regarding the 1880 celebration described a grand affair with around 5,000 in attendance including representatives from nearly every district in the county as well as visitors from Baltimore and Washington. He further described a two-mile-long procession on crowded and decorated streets followed by amusement in Cramer’s Woods, three miles north of town, also near Harmony Grove. By 1891, the annual Emancipation Celebrations were being held at the Fair Grounds, and this continued through the 1930s.
In 1887, the Frederick News reported the Frederick County Emancipation Celebration Association had been established in March and had set to meet in June in the Odd Fellows Hall in the Black Horse Tavern, West Patrick Street, to plan that year’s celebration.
In 1905, the Association met in Nazarite Hall, 111-113 W. All Saints St., the building later purchased by the Alpha Lodge #36 Knights of Pythias in in 1921. In 1920, the Association met at 116 W. All Saints St., the home of Clifford E. and Bertha Ann Holland. Clifford operated a successful grocery store at 27 W. All Saints St. and one of the founders of the Colored Men’s Free Library. In March 1933, it was reported that articles of incorporation for the Emancipation Association, Inc. were filed with the state for the purpose of “fostering and encouraging and sustaining educational, literary and charitable pursuits and vocation.” The Holland property was submitted as the Association’s address.
In May 1933 the Association purchased the property at 158-160 W. All Saints St. The 1930 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for this property shows a two-story frame dwelling substantially set back from the street. I first became aware of the Emancipation Building from a reader, who put me in touch with long time West All Saints Street resident Charles R. Wars, Sr., who described the frame building on the property as a “clapboard shanty.” He also described the long lot that on which they were permitted to garden.
In January 1934, the Frederick News reported that the Emancipation Association, Inc. had obtained a building permit to construct an addition to the dwelling at 160 W. All Saints St. with an improvement value of $750.
Wars described how the building was constructed by his father-in-law, Nicholas Leakins, right in front of the frame house. Later maps show that the present chamfered concrete block duplex with front porch was in fact built in front of the original frame dwelling which was retained as apartments. Exhibiting influences of the Craftsmen style, the building is characteristic of the 1930s. Leakins was an active member of the community and well-known in the building trades as a stone mason. Wars described how the first floor of 158 W. All Saints St. served as a meeting room for the Association. In 1937, the Frederick News reported that the parade was set to gather at Emancipation headquarters, 158 W. All Saints St. In 1950, the Association sold the property to Lemoyne and Norine Goe.
Today, the unassuming Emancipation Building stands largely unaltered from its 1930s construction and remains an important vestige of the work of the Emancipation Association, in its various iterations, to celebrate freedom and call attention to the challenges endured by Frederick’s black community as a result of slavery.
Send your questions and comments to PreservationMatters@cityoffrederick.com.