Emanicipation Day

The Capital Guardian Youth Challenge Academy led the 2016 Emancipation Day parade on April 16 down Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest D.C. (Photo by Melanie R. Duncan)

The 2016 D.C. Emancipation Day parade April 16 was greeted by a diverse crowd as it proceeded down Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The holiday is a central part of the capital’s annual commemoration of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862 – which freed 3,185 slaves in the District.

The parade showcased local politicians, civil and voting rights leaders, and several District of Columbia Public School marching bands, as the journey from slavery to freedom was celebrated.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said in a statement, “As we celebrate Emancipation Day, we honor the many champions who have fought for equality and civil rights throughout our history. Each year, we use this historic moment to renew our push for full democracy and statehood for the residents of the District of Columbia. We will not stop until we achieve full statehood.”

A small group of Georgetown University students held a banner during the processional in favor of D.C. statehood, echoing sentiment from a Freedom Plaza rally to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol the day before.

A panel of civil and voting rights experts assembled April 15 at The Willard Hotel in Northwest D.C. to discuss how voting rights restrictions impedes civil rights. The panel was moderated by Elaine Jones, the first female president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Panelists included U.S. Reps. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), Terry A. Sewell (D-Ala.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and Wade Henderson, executive director and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Shadowing previous years, a free concert and fireworks display at Freedom Plaza concluded the Emancipation Day celebration. Acts included April Sampe’, Black Alley, Be’la Dona, Raheem Devaughn, Rare Essence, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Trouble Funk.

“On behalf of the 680,000 residents in Washington, DC, we are honored to carry on the tradition of celebrating Emancipation Day,” D.C. At-large Councilmember Vincent Orange (D) said in a statement. “This tradition, through public events including lectures and discussions, helps to educate, inform, and engage today’s Washingtonians about our rich and important history.”