Saturday, April 16, 2011

Did you know . . . about Emancipation Day?

Did you know about Emancipation Day? Honestly, neither did I until I moved to DC (I don't think I knew at least...).

Emancipation Day is a public holiday on April 16 (today) in the District (aka, DC) signed into law by DC Mayor Williams in 2005. It celebrates the day Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act which freed more than 3,000 slaves in the District. This probably sounds familiar to you, because 8 1/2 months later Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation proclaiming all slaves in the nation free. DC's Compensated Emancipation is different however. Note, the word compensated in the name. That's right, with the Compensated Emancipation Act, the government PAID slave owners for their slaves' freedom. (It also stipulated the voluntary colonization of freed and former slaves to locations outside of the US, like Africa, which was a popular argument at the time, and the Act even stipulated payment to those willing to emigrate.) The DC Compensated Emancipation Act is the only example of compensation by the federal government to slaves owners of freed slaves. In all, the government paid almost $1 million to free DC's slaves.

While the Districts' slave population had decreased in the decades leading up to the Civil War, the city was still a hotbed of slave trading into Virginia and Maryland. If you walk around downtown DC today and visit tourist hot spots like Georgetown, and even Lafayette Square directly north of the White House, you will be walking by the locations of former slave holding cells and slave markets. All of this took place directly under the noses of Presidents and Congressman in the nation's capital so, needless to say, the DC Compensated Emancipation was the first step to fixing the issue in DC and across the country.

In the District, April 16 has been celebrated with parades and festivals even before it was made a public holiday in 2005. If you haven't heard the news the last few days, you haven't heard that the tax filing date this year isn't April 15 as usual because of DC's Emancipation Day. Since Emancipation Day falls on a Saturday this year, the public holiday is actually the Friday before, April 15. So, the tax filing deadline is April 18 because of the holiday and weekend. (So, for any of you procrastinators out there, you have Emancipation Day to thank for having until Monday to file!)

Anywho, Chris and I are coincidentally celebrating Emancipation Day by visiting Lincoln's Cottage which is only a 5 minute walk from our house. Lincoln lived and visited there frequently during his presidency and for a few days this week (April 14-17) the Lincoln Flag, the American flag used to cushion Lincoln's head after he was shot, will be on display at the Lincoln Cottage Education Center. (Eeks! I'm excited!)

 (PS - I think I kinda like doing these little historical pieces about the "little known" stories of DC. Plan on seeing more "Did you knows" in the future!)

National Archives & Records Administration, "The District of Columbia Emancipation Act
Francine Curro Cary's Washington Odyssey: A Multicultural History of the Nation's Capital

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