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Remember the Pearl and Those Who Tried to Escape Slavery in DC
April 7 – April 20, 2022
Praising the Past

edmondson sisters

On Friday, April 15, at 6p, at the corner of 4th and I Streets, Southwest (SW) (by Westminster Presbyterian Church) patriots will gather to begin a “Remember the Pearl” Walk to the SW Wharf. It was on the same night in 1848 that 77 men, women, and children, enslaved by prominent families in the District of Columbia, made their way to the river, boarded a schooner called “The Pearl” and began a heroic and historic, but failed bid for freedom.

Some, such as the Edmonson sisters, survived to live interesting lives in physical freedom. At least one of the Edmonson descendants is scheduled to participate in the events.

This annual season of commemoration in SW will include a colorful History Tent located by the SW Market at 4th and M, SW. It will include 16 art panels to bring the Pearl history, its context, and other hidden histories to light.

The walk will conclude on the public pier with the flame at the SW Wharf with remarks and a presentation of a wreath made by the SW Sea Scouts of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. A flotilla of boats will symbolically head toward freedom. 

The Pearl escape attempt and its aftermath contributed to the abolition of slavery in Washington, DC. On Saturday, April 16, DC’s “compensated” Emancipation Day, the first SW Freedom Fest takes place from 1p-3p at Westminster Church. It will feature an exhibit by artist Kristin Hayes-Campbell, a descendant of a Pearl family freedom seeker, the band and dance team of Richard Wright Public Charter High School in SW, and complimentary food and drink. 

The walk will also help highlight the continuing story of The Pearl including the summer of 1850 when the Edmonson sisters attended the Fugitive Slave Convention. The convention declared all enslaved people to be prisoners of war. The Getty Museum Collection includes an image featuring the sisters, both dressed in plaid, and Frederick Douglass, seated between the two sisters. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe included part of the Edmonson sisters' history with other factual accounts of slavery experiences in “A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin.” Emily, one of the two sisters, eventually enrolled in the Normal School for Colored Girls (now known as the University of the District of Columbia). Edmonson Plaza at 1701 Duke Street in Alexandria, VA is named for the sisters.

The Pearl Coalition is also an event particiapant. The late Lloyd D. Smith founded the Pearl Coalition. His vision included building a life-size replica of the Pearl schooner that could be docked on the SW waterfront, taking passengers on informative tours and serving as an economic generator for the indigenous and African-American community.

The original plan was to develop the schooner project along with the waterfront. However, the developers and the politicians decided to develop the waterfront from a Eurocentric perspective says David Smith, grandson of Smith and Executive Director at The Pearl Coalition. He added that the effort will continue to include all Americans. “We are working with a trust fund to develop a $500 million trust to build the boat and to sustain operations and programming.”

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