D.C. Emancipation Day celebrates President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act on 16 April 1862.
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The Compensated Emancipation Act freed over 3,000 slaves in the District of Columbia. Nine months later, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed over three million slaves across a large number of states.
Compensated Emancipation put money into the hands of the slaveholders. Slavery was abolished in the District and the government paid nine hundred slaveholders approximately $300 for each slave they had previously owned. The act only covered the District of Columbia because Lincoln was unable to convince many of the states of its virtues. The federal government only had control of the District and that was where slavery began its end.
Emancipation Day celebrates the freedom of slaves, and particularly President Lincoln’s efforts, and eventual success, to end slavery. The holiday celebration was recognised from 1866 to 1901 then was somehow forgotten. In recent years, after many years research by a lady named Loretta Carter-Hanes, the holiday was ‘rediscovered’ and re-established.
On Emancipation Day in D.C., Pennsylvania Avenue comes alive with a parade of military, students and bands, followed by a fun-filled festival. Public school children have the day off and many government offices are closed so the parade draws large crowds along its route. At the end of the day and after the festival, the sky comes alight with a fireworks show.