By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor
mgreen@afro.com

While the national holiday of Juneteenth commemorates the official day enslaved African Americans were freed and the announcement in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, Washingtonians celebrate true freedom in the spring, when slaves were emancipated  in the District of Columbia on April 16, 1862.  

Three years before Juneteenth and eight-and-a-half months before the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, which freed over 3,000 enslaved African Americans. 

The day he signed the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, President Lincoln was sure he was making a historic and strong decision.

“I never in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper,” Lincoln said. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”

Centuries later, City leaders still uplift the importance of Emancipation Day.

“It’s important to tell the story of the 3,100 enslaved African-Americans freed in the District before the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Angie Gates, director of the Office of Cable Television Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME) told the AFRO in 2018, before that year’s Emancipation Day Celebration.

The District generally makes a big deal out of the day enslaved Washingtonians were freed.  Emancipation Day celebrations have been taking place on some level in D.C. since 1866.  Then, in the late 1980s, long time D.C. resident Loretta Carter Hanes began a campaign to make Emancipation Day an official holiday. In 1998 the first wreath laying ceremony was held at the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park. Since then the holiday has grown into a signature event for the District of Columbia. 

Pre-pandemic, OCTFME, which was established in 2015, would host a large in-person concert commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Washingtonians in 1862.  Concerts have included headlining guests such as D.M.V. native and Grammy winning singer Mya, Rhythm and Blues superstars such as Brandy and Angie Stone, and Go Go bands such as Rare Essence.

This year, the District virtually commemorated Emancipation Day with a conversation looking at D.C.’s next step in freedom- Statehood.

On April 15 D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser hosted a virtual discussion, “From Enslavement to DC Statehood – Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” which featured an interfaith panel engaged in a conversation about what has prevented the District from obtaining statehood. “Statehood has been connected to racism,” said Rabbi Hannah Goldstein of Temple Sinai in D.C. “This is a racial justice issue and we have to help White people see it.”

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor