While freed slaves called “contrabands” flooded into Washington, D.C. looking for work and living wherever they could, the literate blacks who worked in the White House and other government jobs celebrated the first anniversary of emancipation at the comfortably upholstered Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church where the speakers encourage black pride.
William E. Matthews of Baltimore said they should celebrate the birthdays of Hannibal of Carthage, Toussaint L’Ouverture of Haiti, astronomer Benjamin Banneker and other black heroes.
Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker, one of those present at the church celebration, decided “well-to-do colored people” should do something to alleviate the suffering of former slaves.
She brought it up at church and helped organized the Cotnraband Relief Society.
Mrs. Lincoln quickly contributed $200, the waiters at New York’s Metropolitan Hotel took up a collection, and Frederick Douglass not only contributed but he also lectured on the society’s behalf.
Source: Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War by Ernest B. Furguson