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Assembly on DC Emancipation Day Honors, Remembers, and Commits to Change

On DC Emancipation Day, April 16, Georgetown Visitation hosted an all-school assembly that included remembrance, reflection, and a call to action. Students, faculty, and the Sisters of the Visitation honored the legacy of those who were once enslaved on the campus and acknowledged the institution's role in that painful history.

The ceremony commenced with a prayer led by the Director of the St. Jane de Chantal Salesian Center, Olivia Wills Kane ‘85, setting the tone for a morning of introspection and gratitude. Mrs. Kane’s invocation acknowledged the significance of the day and expressed appreciation for the collective efforts that made the assembly possible. 

The program unfolded in four parts, each shedding light on different aspects of emancipation and its implications for the Georgetown Visitation community.

Historical Context

History teachers Liz Goergen Silver ‘01, Tony McCormack, and Will Redmond took the stage to explain the timeline of emancipation from the signing of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. They highlighted the complexities of emancipation, including the financial compensation provided to former slave owners and the delayed freedom experienced by many enslaved individuals across the country.

The Meaning of Abolition

Students Chloe ‘26, Maggie ‘26, and Sofia ‘26 shared insights into the significance of abolition, paying tribute to prominent figures like Frederick Douglass and emphasizing the ongoing journey of learning and reflection.

Emancipation at Visitation

Principal Leonor Limarzi Ponzio ‘97, Mrs. Kane, and Mother Superior Sister Anne Francis Ng'ang'a, VHM elucidated Visitation's history of enslavement. They remembered the individuals who were enslaved on the campus, showing silhouettes commissioned by the school to honor their memory. Sharing personal stories and historical details, they honored the dignity and humanity of those whose stories were unknown until recent years:

  • “We remember details of family and commitment, for we know that Susan and Ignatius Tilghman had eight children and stayed married for 55 years during and after their enslavement.”

  • “We remember details of faith, for we know that the Tilghmans baptized some of their children at Holy Trinity Church.”

  • “We remember details of perseverance, for we know that Ignatius Tilghman worked to self-emancipate. Ignatius Tilghman, a husband and a father, had paid money to the Sisters to buy his and his family’s freedom before they were ultimately emancipated by the city.”

  • “We remember details of courage, for we know that after emancipation Benjamin Mahoney signed on to fight in the United States military. Once he gained his freedom from enslavement at Visitation, he enlisted in the army, bravely supporting his country – our country – in the Civil War.”

Remembrance

Sr. Mary Berchmans Hannan, VHM, ‘48 & ‘50 honored the twelve individuals emancipated from their enslavement by Georgetown Visitation through the DC Emancipation Act in 1862 and spoke their names, as it is “by name that each one of us has been called by God. It is our names and the names of those enslaved here that are inscribed on the heart of Jesus.” As she shared each of the names, a student holding a candle walked down the aisle of the Nolan Center and placed the candle on a table in the center of the stage. Those we remembered are as follows - a family, a husband and wife and their seven children, and three men:

Benjamin Mahoney, 25 years old

Joseph Dixon, 21 years old

Thomas Weldon, 28 years old

Susan Tilghman, 41 years old

Rosalie Tilghman, 6 months old

Ignatius Tilghman, 40 years old

Mary Elizabeth Tilghman, 17 years old 

Charles Tilghman, 15 years old

Theodore Tilghman, 13 years old

Jane Tilghman, 10 years old

Cecelia Tilghman, 4 years old

Josephine Tilghman, 2 years old

Concluding Prayer

Visitation President, Dr. Barbara McGraw Edmondson, led a closing prayer that encapsulated the essence of the ceremony – a call to confront the injustices of the past, commit to change, and embrace the values of compassion and equality: “This is a call to open our hearts and desire only to respond to others, all others, with love, understanding, and welcome,” she said. She reminded students, “In God’s plan, you were called to this place and this time to bring understanding, voice and advocacy, and love to a world that needs you.”