Convention of Ex-Slaves in 1916

What an unbelievably powerful photo that speaks for itself.

1916 Slaves reunion. Lewis Martin, age 100; Martha Elizabeth Banks, age 104; Amy Ware, age 103; Rev. Simon P. Drew, born free." Cosmopolitan Baptist Church, 921 N Street N.W. (Shorpy)

1916 Slaves reunion. Lewis Martin, age 100; Martha Elizabeth Banks, age 104; Amy Ware, age 103; Rev. Simon P. Drew, born free. Cosmopolitan Baptist Church, 921 N Street N.W. (Shorpy)

Below is an article published by the Washington Post on September 25th, 1916, leading up to the convention.

A mass meeting will be held tonight at Cosmopolitan Baptist Church, Tenth and N streets northwest, to appoint committees and make other arrangements for the entertainment of delegates and visitors to the fifty-fourth annual convention of ex-slaves to be held here October 22-30 under the auspices of the White Cross National Colored Old Home Association of the United States and the National Evangelistic Ministers’ Alliance of America. Dr. Simon P. W. Drew, pastor of Cosmopolitan Baptist Church, will preside at the meeting tonight.

A free dinner will be served for the ex-slaves each day during the convention. Former slaves of Gen. Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson will be present. All persons desiring to aid in entertaining the old slaves are requested to send contributions or articles of wearing apparel to Mrs. Julia Palmer, 1513 Tenth street northwest.

Not only were the ex-slaves of Lee and Jackson present, but among the invited included the last living ex-slave of George Washington. It’s unclear whether he attended or not as the Washington Post reported on October 16th that “he may be too feeble to attend.”

Two elderly convention attendees in 1916 (Library of Congress)

Two elderly convention attendees in 1916 (Library of Congress)

The convention invited quite an impressive roster of speakers for the opening.

President Wilson, Vice President Marshall, Candidates Hughes and Fairbanks, together with a number of other notables, have been invited to deliver addresses before the fifty-fourth convention of former slaves, which is to be held in the Cosmopolitan Baptist Church, N street near Ninth street northwest, beginning October 22 and lasting to November 6.

Colored people of the District are cooperating in efforts to make the affair a success. In a mass meeting last night at the church it was resolved that all those present should participate in the convention and otherwise aid in caring for the former slaves.

Arrangements have been made to have vehicles of all kinds ready to carry the aged folks about the city and to and from the convention.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to track down any information about who accepted the invitation to address the convention.

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  • Terry in Silver Spring

    “Not only were the ex-slaves of Lee and Jackson present, but among the invited included the last living ex-slave of George Washington. It’s unclear whether he attended or not as the Washington Post reported on October 16th that “he may be too feeble to attend.””

    George Washington died in 1799. This convention was held 117 years later.

    • Jack

      I think that they were talking about the slave being too feeble to attend.

      • Terry in Silver Spring

        He’s certainly be feeble if he was at least 117 yrs old.

      • Black Dynamite

        He wasn’t a slave ugh… #YouPeople

    • norsequeen

      Some former slaves lived well into their 100′s. I’ve seen pictures of some of the slaves that were interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project from 1936-1938, which was 76 years after their freedom. Many of them were over 100 years old at the time that they were recorded. I know that it’s difficult sometimes to pinpoint a slave’s actual birthdate, since no records were kept of such events. If Mr. Washington’s slave was a child when Washington died, it’s conceivable that he could have still been alive when this convention was held.

    • Ty Moore

      The “he” discussed refers to the slave not the president.

    • a567and8

      Well I posted an Obit of my 3 times great grandmother. It said she was 113 years old when she died, even though a census tract says she was 109. These were some hardy, long-lived people!

    • Erica

      117 it is still possible for them to be his slaves as children were also slaves. They shackled babies during slavery!

  • http://tcmag.wordpress.com V. Lyn

    Great post…thank you

  • http://tcmag.wordpress.com V. Lyn

    Reblogged this on Drayton's Gazette.

  • Laura

    Very interesting. I found another blog about this with some additional info: http://www.aleliabundles.com/2012/04/15/four-free-women-1916-emancipation-reunion/

    • http://www.ghostsofdc.org Ghosts of DC

      This is great … Thanks for sharing.

  • http://diaryofahistorian.wordpress.com Christina

    Amazing post!

  • Eat.Style.Play

    Thanks so much for posting this, i just found this site, and it’s amazing to find out all this history!

  • Shahlaymah

    I had an uncle that lived to be 120. He walked miles everyday and had a shot of Morgan David wine every morning. He was still of sound mind when he passed. I should be so blessed.

  • http://luvsiesous.com/ el_guero2000

    Amazing news!

    Thank you for reporting the good history. It was remarkable to read that one of Washington’s former slaves was still alive. That is just amazing.

    Wayne
    Luvsiesous.com

  • John M

    Ghosts,

    When Mark Twain was in Washington he wrote an article entitled, “Gen. Washington’s Negro-Body Servant” for “The Galaxy” that appeared in the February 1868 edition. The phenomena seems to be a long-standing tradition of black Washington folklore. I dedicated an entire chapter to this in the “Mark Twain in Washington” book but wasn’t able to add the article you cite. The 1916 article adds further credence to this long-standing tradition among Washington’s black community and newspaper editors.

    http://marktwainindc.wordpress.com/tag/general-washingtons-negro-body-servant/