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Richmond celebrates 150 years of emancipation

Joey Matthews | 4/9/2015, 12:23 p.m. | Updated on 4/10/2015, 6:27 p.m.
In the midst of the city that once served as a merciless marketplace for hundreds of thousands of enslaved black ...
Re-enactors representing the United States Colored Troops triumphantly march Saturday along Bank Street. Photo by Sandra Sellars

In the midst of the city that once served as a merciless marketplace for hundreds of thousands of enslaved black people, a diverse audience of thousands gathered Saturday at the State Capitol to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the liberation of Richmond from the slave-holding Confederacy.

The ceremony was marked by re-enactors in period dress and uniforms, uplifting music and speeches looking toward the future.

It was one of many celebratory and emotionally evocative events held in Richmond during the weekend to highlight the sesquicentennial of Richmond’s emancipation by Union Troops of the capital of the Confederacy that led to the end of the Civil War and the start of freedom for millions.

Asa Gordon fought back tears as he helped lead United States Colored Troops re-enactors Saturday in the “Blue Coats Parade,” symbolizing the Union Army’s triumphant march into the smoldering ruins of Richmond on April 3, 1865.

He and other re-enactors drew loud cheers and applause from people — black and white, young and old — lining the parade route as they marched to the State Capitol for the ceremony led by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Mayor Dwight C. Jones and other officials.

“It’s a tremendous feeling knowing they are finally honoring the role U.S. Colored Troops played in the liberation of Richmond,” said Mr. Gordon, who is secretary of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Colored Troops. “I’m overjoyed to be here.”

Joyce Bailey of Greenbelt, Md., was among those cheering the U.S. Colored Troops re-enactors. As a member of FREED or Female Re-Enactors of Distinction, she portrayed Elizabeth H. Keckley, a Dinwiddie County native and black woman who was a seamstress and confidante to President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

“I think it’s wonderful we came down here,” said Ms. Bailey. “I’m overwhelmed by all of this.”

So were others on the Capitol grounds.

“For me, this is a feeling of joy and jubilation,” said Robert Hicks, 57, of North Side, who was joined by his wife, Shelia, along the parade route. “We used to hide this history, but we don’t hide it anymore.”

Nettie Epps of North Side said she refused to let her day be ruined by a lone man who waved a Confederate flag across the street from her near the State Capitol.

“I just wave the U.S. flag back,” she declared. “After all this ended, the fact is we eventually became the United States, and I’m proud of that.”

James Dixon, 57, didn’t mince words in describing the actions of Confederate slaveholders as treasonous. He cited Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

“That makes the Civil War the biggest act of treason in American history and the Confederacy the biggest terror organization in U.S. history and their modern-day offshoots as terrorist organizations,” he said.

As the U.S. Colored Troops approached the entrance to the Capitol, they were joined by other Union re-enactors and current military members. The group yielded to re-enactors from the Fort McHenry Guard Fife and Drum Corps, who led the colorful procession to the steps of the Capitol for the commemorative ceremony.