2010 African American History Month Exhibition

Photo of fugitive slaves known as contrabandTo help celebrate African American History Month, the National Library of Medicine hosted a special exhibition, Within these Walls: Contraband Hospital and the African Americans Who Served There. The exhibition highlights a little known piece of history—the Contraband Hospital in Washington, DC.

Washington became a beacon of freedom after President Abraham Lincoln signed the DC Emancipation Act in April 1862, freeing all slaves in the District of Columbia. Large numbers of fugitive slaves, known as “contraband” escaped to the nation’s capital for a taste of freedom. To meet the needs of that growing population, the Union Army established the Contraband Camp and Hospital.

The exhibition uses personal stories, observations, photographs, and historical documents to reveal the efforts of unsung African American surgeons and nurses who provided care and comfort to black soldiers and civilians.


Jill L. Newmark, of the NLM History of Medicine Division, curated the exhibition, which consists of multiple panels. The panels will be displayed in the Lister Hill Center lobby through the end of March.

Photo caption: The women and men in the photo above were fugitive slaves known as contraband. They worked for the 13th Massachusetts Infantry of the Union Army and represent the thousands of African Americans who served as hospital workers during the Civil War. (Courtesy of the Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion and the US Army Military History Institute.)