D.C. Celebrates Emancipation Day with Parade (photos)

April 16, 1862 marked the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. On that date, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act effectively granting freedom to 3,100 enslaved people in the city.

The new law provided compensation to former slaveholders, paying them up to $300 for each person freed. It was a major victory for abolitionists who campaigned to end slavery and establish civil equality in the only jurisdiction directly governed by Congress.

The passage of the Compensated Emancipation Act came nearly nine months before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it would not be until the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on December 6, 1865 before all slavery in the U.S. would cease by law. But most would agree that April 16, 1862 marked the beginning of its end.

Following the Civil War, African Americans in the District began to celebrate April 16 as a holiday. “Organized by the black elite of the city, the parades began in 1866 as a demonstration of African-American pride and political strength,” according to the White House Historical Association.

The April 16 anniversary became an official public holiday in Washington in 2005, again featuring a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue. This year’s edition of the parade was hosted by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and featured Civil War era re-enactors, drill teams, high school marching bands, live Go-Go music, plus the emblematic hot air balloons featuring African American icons from past and present including Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Barack Obama, Chuck Brown, Marion Barry and Dorothy Height. Parade festivities included a D.C. Statehood “food truck palooza,” a concert at Freedom Plaza, and evening fireworks. 

View a slideshow of Jeff Malet’s photos of the Washington D.C. Emancipation Day Parade by clicking on the photo icons below.




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