A Socially Distanced Emancipation Day

Today, Thursday, April 16, is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in Washington, D.C.

The Compensated Emancipation Act was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862, more than eight months before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, on Jan. 1, 1863. The act’s passage freed some 3,100 enslaved persons in the District. It also reimbursed those who had “owned” them — legally, up to that point — and offered funds for those freed to emigrate.

In addition to commemorating this milestone on the path to nationwide abolition, achieved with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on Dec. 6, 1865, the holiday celebrates D.C.’s advancement of racial equality and civil rights and reaffirms its commitment to those causes.

An Emancipation Day email from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office noted: “Unfortunately, 158 years later, DC residents are neither fully free nor equal. So today, we celebrate Emancipation Day by fighting for #DCStatehood.”

Last year’s festivities, on Saturday, April 13, included a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, a concert on Freedom Plaza and fireworks.

Of course, this year’s pandemic-related precautions have closed schools and limited the operations of government agencies and businesses. But not all: trash pickup will take place on Saturday, a day later than usual.

Click here to view the Compensated Emancipation Act.


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