Today, the District of Columbia is observing D.C. Emancipation Day, the day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, ending slavery in the nation’s capital.
Signed on April 16, 1862, the act not only freed enslaved Washingtonians nearly nine months before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but it paid former “owners” who stayed loyal to Union $300 per freed slaves, and encouraged former slaves to voluntarily colonize outside the United States, paying up to $100 for each resettled slave.
Over the next nine months, the federal government paid close to $1 million for the freedom of around 3,000 former slaves.
Slavery did not officially end nationwide until after the Civil War ended in 1865, when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was proposed on Jan. 31 and was ratified by 30 of the Union’s 36 states by the end of that year.
Starting in 1866, Emancipation Day celebrations were held, but the commemorations stopped around 1901. A century later, Emancipation Day was celebrated again in the District and thanks to a legislative proposal by then-D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange, it became an official public holiday in 2005.
This year, D.C. Emancipation Day officially falls on a Saturday but is being observed today, which is an unpaid furlough day instead of a paid holiday for D.C. government workers. SOURCE
EVENTS TO COMMEMORATEFirst off is a new smartphone-based commemorative scavenger hunt from Cultural Tourism DC. After competitors download an app and follow specific instructions designed for the festivities, the top 30 participants will win prizes.
The Emancipation Day parade, which starts at 3rd Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue around 11 a.m. ends at Freedom Plaza, where there will be a street festival for the remainder of the afternoon followed by fireworks after sundown.
The Historical Society of Washington, D.C will be holding an hour-long panel discussion starting at 11:30 a.m. exploring Lincoln’s decision to end slavery and how D.C. residents impacted the abolition movement nationionally. Stay afterwards to peruse a multitude of documents including some from local church collections and the Kiplinger Washington Collection.
At the Capitol Visitor Center , Damini Davis, an archivist from the National Archives, will discuss the D.C. Emancipation Act at 1 p.m.