Emancipation Day celebrates President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act on 16 April 1862. It is a holiday in Washington D.C.
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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.
It’s important to understand that slavery didn’t end in the US in general until the 13th Amendment was passed following the Civil War. But it ended early in D.C., and D.C. residents remember that fact through their special holiday of Emancipation Day.
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 recognized 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.
There are numerous special events in D.C., not only on 16 April but during the whole month of April, to celebrate Emancipation Day. You will find exhibits, concerts, public forums and poetry recitals, and more all aimed at educating the general public about the history of Washington DC and of slavery and its end in the United States.