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Historian Aims To Honor 150th Emancipation Date

The Capital

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Janice Hayes-Williams doesn't forget easily, so she makes it a habit to remind others.

In 2007, the Annapolis City Council passed a bill apologizing for slavery. The legislation also called for a time of education in the last week of October.

But after four years without any observance, Hayes-Williams returned to the City Council to follow up on its pledge.

"I felt like that was no longer appropriate," she said. "The bill said the city would celebrate."

Her efforts led to another bill in 2011 forming the Annapolis Commission on Maryland's Constitution of 1864 and the Abolishment of Slavery.

Since then Hayes-Williams -- the commission's chairwoman -- has been on a mission to make sure the meaning of Nov. 1, 2014, isn't forgotten. On that date, Maryland will celebrate the sesquicentennial -- the 150th anniversary -- of the Maryland Constitution that put an end to slavery one year prior to complete national emancipation.

In coming months, Hayes-Williams will continue raising funds and searching for volunteers to pack the week before Nov. 1 with events. Organizers are slating lectures and theater performances. The weeklong series will conclude with a ball.

"She is so well-grounded both in her historical perspective and the social network of the community, there's no one better to lead that effort than Janice," said Lisa Craig, Annapolis' chief of historic preservation.

Hayes-Williams is an Annapolis native and descendent of slaves and free blacks who lived in the area before the American Revolution. She has contributed to publications and leads an African-American walking tour in the city.

More than seven months ago, Hayes-Williams was one of about 10 citizens to testify before the state Senate on designating Nov. 1 as Maryland's emancipation day. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill into law.

On Nov. 1, 2013, the city and state celebrated the first Maryland Emancipation Day with an event featuring a Frederick Douglass re-enactor.

Hayes-Williams' preparations for the 150th anniversary will require outreach to the hospitality industry as well as educating residents on the significance of the event.

The commission is seeking $10,000 in private funds and hopes that can be doubled with a $10,000 matching grant from the City of Annapolis. Last year, the commission raised $6,000 and received $7,500 from the city. While that money has already been spent, Hayes-Williams said the group has financial commitments from previous supporters.

The goal is that the sesquicentennial will be recognized statewide, not just in Annapolis, Craig said.

Prior to the 1864 Maryland Constitution, the state's population was almost evenly divided between the free and the enslaved. Abolition nearly didn't pass. In the first round, it failed by about 2,000 votes. Anne Arundel County did not favor the new constitution, with only 281 supporting it and 1,360 against.

Maryland officials then encouraged Union soldiers to cast their votes, which tilted the numbers in favor of passage. The amended constitution was upheld by a 375-vote majority.

"Even though it's emancipation from slavery, this is the celebration of all of us," Hayes-Williams said.

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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