Elizabeth Proctor Thomas was an emancipated African American who owned a farm that became part of Fort Stevens. While her home was being dismantled by German-speaking workers with whom she could not communicate, she sat on a hill nearby with her 6 month-old child, weeping. A person came up and said he knew it was hard but in the fullness of time she would be rewarded. The person was Abraham Lincoln.
Thomas was a presence at the fort, striking up a friendship with Lincoln (he visited often as his cottage was nearby) and held a place of honor by the veterans who fought there. She thrived (and was thought of as a sort of Mayor of Brightwood) but was never properly compensated. She was sure she would have been repaid had Lincoln lived.
Tn the 1920's the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (see here) created Lincoln-Thomas Day to celebrate Thomas and the unlikely friendship and alliance with Lincoln. It was briefly a significant holiday, particularly in the African American community. At the center of the holiday was the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by African American children in schools around the country and at Fort Stevens itself.
Recently, the Military Road School Preservation Trust (see here) brought the holiday back to life.
It will be celebrated September 21, 2019 from noon to 2:30 pm at Fort Stevens.
The fact that the holiday was created in the 1920s and revived in this era is particularly meaningful. During the 1920's, the KKK was on the rise. The 1920’s saw very significant Klan rallies in DC (see here) and the KKK reached the height of its power with 4 million members nationwide in 1926. In the meantime, in the preceding years, President Wilson had dismantled much of the African-American federal workforce. The first Lincoln-Thomas Day preceded the big Klan events in DC (see here for a flyer announcing that event) but came in the run up to them at a time when the KKK was establishing a higher and higher profile. The idea that in that context, the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs would come up with the Lincoln-Thomas holiday is a testament to their resourcefulness. Also, even if the first one was in 1924, it was an annual event in September for some time, so the holiday would have been celebrated in close proximity to the big KKK rallies in DC in August and September in the years that followed and likely offered something of an answer to the ugliness and a tribute to the light.
The Lincoln-Thomas Day celebration resonates on many levels. Elizabeth Proctor Thomas' accomplishment and sacrifice, the friendship between Lincoln and Thomas, the unfilled promises following emancipation, the ugliness of the rise of the KKK (tragically being echoed on our political landscape today), the beauty of the response of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs in the 1920's, and the similar beauty of the work of the Military Road School Preservation Trust to revive the holiday with pride today, to name a few.
Come enjoy the celebration with music, a wreath-laying, brief speeches and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and show your support for the values reflected by Lincoln, Thomas, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and Military Road School Preservation Trust.
Saturday, September 21, 2019
12:00 noon - 2:30 pm
Fort Stevens — 13th and Quackenbos Streets NW