Emancipation Day Events Will Focus on Freedom and Citizenship


Tomorrow, April 16, is Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C., a holiday that celebrates the passage of the DC Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln, the act ended slavery in the District, freed 3,100 individuals, reimbursed those who had legally owned them and offered the newly freed women and men money to emigrate.

As the District’s Emancipation Day webpage notes: “Though the Compensated Emancipation Act was an important legal and symbolic victory, it was part of a larger struggle over the meaning and practice of freedom and citizenship. These two words continue to be central to what it means to be a participating member of society. We invite you to think about what these concepts have meant in the past and what they mean to you today.”

A list of related events on April 15 and 16 follows.

APRIL 15 AT 6 P.M.

D.C. Emancipation Day Virtual Kickoff Celebration

The Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs and the Mayor’s Interfaith Council will host “From Enslavement to D.C. Statehood: Representation, Identity and Diversity, 51 Faith Leaders for Statehood,” a panel exploring the path forward in the quest for racial equality, social justice and D.C. statehood. Register at enslavement-to-statehood.eventbrite.com.

APRIL 15 AT 7 P.M.

Remember the Pearl

Westminster Presbyterian Church will present “Remember the Pearl, Commemorating the Historic Escape for Freedom by Enslaved Persons in 1848 From the Southwest Waterfront,” with C.R. Gibbs and Edmonson descendant Dawne Young. In the twilight of a spring Saturday night, 173 years ago, 77 enslaved men, women and children quietly left their master’s quarters and stole away to freedom aboard a commercial schooner called the Pearl. It was the largest attempt in the country by enslaved persons to escape their chains of bondage. Participate via Zoom by clicking HERE. The memorial site at the Southwest Duck Pond at 6th and I Streets SW can be visited from April 16 to 18.

APRIL 16 AT 11 A.M.

Emancipation Day Celebration at Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Society Cemetery

The Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park Foundation invites area residents to a libation ceremony and a reading of names. Anyone who would like to share information about an ancestor or a song, a poem or a reading is welcome to do so. The cemetery is located at 2501 Mill Road NW. Click HERE for tickets.

APRIL 16 AT 4 AND 8 P.M.

Becoming Douglass Commonwealth, from D.C. Disenfranchisement to Full Democracy

For the first time in history, D.C. statehood bills will likely come up for votes in both houses of Congress. If past debates are any guide, the debates about these bills will be contentious, focusing largely on such questions as: Why should D.C. become a state? Can we admit new states into the union? Is statehood for D.C. even constitutional? The program will be broadcast on WUSA-9 at 4 p.m. and on DCN at 8 p.m.

APRIL 16 FROM 6 TO 9 P.M.

Emancipation Day Closing Concert

The Anacostia Coordinating Council, DC Vote, 51 for 51, Indivisible, League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia and the ACLU of D.C. will live-stream this closing concert on Facebook and YouTube.

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