Apr 15, 2022 - Things to Do

D.C. celebrates Emancipation Day

D.C.'s Emancipation Day parade
The 2014 Emancipation Day parade. Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

D.C. tomorrow celebrates Emancipation Day, the 160th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing a bill ending slavery and freeing over 3,100 enslaved people in the nation's capital.

Why it matters: It’s a lesser-known holiday in the District, but city leaders also tie the anniversary to the District’s continued struggle for statehood.

The details: The city’s Emancipation Day parade begins tomorrow at 2pm on Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street NW.

  • Festivities include a D.C. statehood “food truck palooza,” a concert at Freedom Plaza at 3pm, and fireworks at 8:30pm.
  • Performers include CeeLo Green, Crystal Waters, Junk Yard Band, and more.

The history: After its founding in 1790, Washington became a “hub for the domestic slave trade,” having been created out of two slave states, Maryland and Virginia.

  • “Like other cities across the south, slavery was woven into the fabric of DC from the very beginning,” Attorney General Karl Racine wrote in a post this week. “This is a history that is tough to reckon with — but it is necessary to understand the struggles of past Washingtonians, and for many Black Washingtonians, the struggles of their ancestors.”

The Compromise of 1850 ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia, but the trade still continued across the Potomac River in places such as Alexandria.

  • The 1850 census found 3,185 Black D.C. residents were enslaved.

Twelve years later, Lincoln’s Emancipation Act freed slaves in the city. But it also compensated former slave owners and incentivized former slaves to leave the city.

Go deeper: White House’s history of slavery in Washington.

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