Tag: District of Columbia

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Offers New Online Database of Court Cases of Enslaved People Seeking Their Freedom

According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently debuted an online database of more than 500 court cases in which enslaved persons had sued to gain their freedom. The Dred Scott case in 1857 is the most famous of such cases, but there were many more.

The project collected, digitized, and makes accessible the freedom suits brought by enslaved families in the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, Maryland state courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. African-American enslaved families accumulated legal knowledge, legal acumen, and experience with the law that they passed from one generation to the next.

The freedom suits they brought against slaveholders exposed slavery a priori as subject to legal question. The suits in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, raised questions about the constitutional and legal legitimacy of slavery, and by extension, affected slavery and law in Maryland, Virginia, and all of the federal territories.

One such case was that of Ann Williams, who leapt from the third floor window of a tavern on F Street in Washington, D.C., after she was sold to Georgia slave traders and separated from her family. She suffered a broken back and fractured her arms, but she survived.

In 2015, original documents about her came to light at the National Archives. Williams and her husband were reunited and had four more children. Then she sued for her freedom. And won. Below is a short film about her story:

The online database concentrates on cases filed in Washington, D.C. in the 1820s and 1830s. More than 100 of these cases involved enslaved persons who were represented by Francis Scott Key, the author of the “Star Spangled Banner.” As such the database is named “O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family.”

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2019/05/new-online-database-of-court-records-of-cases-of-enslaved-people-seeking-their-freedom/

District of Columbia Agrees to $16.65M Settlement with Donald Gates, Wrongly Imprisoned for 27 Years

Donald Gates (Photo Source: nnomcenceprorject.org)
Donald Gates (Photo Source: innocenceprorject.org)

The District of Columbia agreed Thursday to pay $16.65 million to a man who spent 27 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.

The amount is about $617,000 for every year Donald Eugene Gates spent in prison. Gates was freed in 2009 after DNA evidence cleared him in the 1981 rape and murder of 21-year-old Georgetown University student Catherine Schilling. A federal jury on Wednesday found that two city police officers fabricated and withheld evidence in the case, and city officials agreed to a settlement Thursday as the jury was getting ready to decide damages in the case.

According to court records, former homicide detectives Ronald S. Taylor and Norman Brooks, both now retired, fed information to an unreliable informant. The informant claimed Gates confessed to him while in jail and that he was tied to DNA evidence. This led to a D.C. Superior court finding Gates guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. During this time, Gates maintained his innocence and suffered until 2009. It was then that he was cleared based on DNA evidence and the real culprit was identified. Because of the conduct of the officers and his wrongful imprisonment, Gates was earlier awarded $1.4 million under a law that gives $50K per year of imprisonment of innocent people who waive their rights to sue the US government.

In response to the jury verdict, Gates is quoted as saying, “It feels like the God of the King James Bible is real, and he answered my prayers.” Gates, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., added as he left the courtroom, “Justice is on the way to being fulfilled. . . . It’s one of the happiest days of my life.”

article via fox5dc.com and rollingout.com

Viewer Sees Story About D.C. Student in Need, Agrees to Foot Most of Bill for Ivy League Summer Program

Zach Wood, Peggy Cafritz

WASHINGTON – Last Wednesday, WUSA9’s Bruce Leshan did a story about Zach Wood, a young man from one of D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods who got admission to some of the country’s most prestigious summer college programs, but couldn’t afford to go. He had turned to raising donations at a gofundme.com page.

Later that day, viewer Peggy Cooper Cafritz called the station and said she was willing to foot the rest of the bill. She told us she was moved by Zach Wood’s story, but says she was also frustrated that money was going to be the reason why he didn’t get to take advantage of a great opportunity. With Wood about $5,000 to $6,000 short of his goal, she says she couldn’t just sit back and watch.

Cafritz told Wood that the money comes with few, very simple conditions. Most importantly, she wants Wood to keep in touch long after the summer program ends.

Besides being a renowned art patron in D.C., Cafritz has been involved in education in the District of Columbia for decades, including a term as the president of the D.C. Board of Education. She also co-founded the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Northwest D.C.

To see video of this story, click here.

article by Mola Lenghi via wusa9.com