Thousands Celebrate D.C. Emancipation Day

Young men participate in the Emancipation Day parade, putting their fists in the air to symbolize Black power and pride, as the District celebrated 157 years since the abolition of slavery in the city. (Photo by: Rob Roberts)
Young men participate in the Emancipation Day parade, putting their fists in the air to symbolize Black power and pride, as the District celebrated 157 years since the abolition of slavery in the city. (Photo by: Rob Roberts)

By George Kevin Jordan

It may have been overcast during most of Saturday, but that didn’t seem to damper the spirits of the thousands of people who gathered at the Freedom Plaza to celebrate the 157th anniversary of Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. The event was filled with music, food and fireworks, as residents throughout the DMV came to celebrate the historic day.

The streets were closed off along Pennsylvania Avenue as people took in the music, swaying as D.C. natives such as Kenny Lattimore and Mya, serenaded them or jumping into a groove when Go-go music blasted through the speakers.

April 16, 1862 was the official date that slavery was abolished in Washington, D.C. As a result of President Abraham Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, over 3,100 slaves were freed in D.C.

“That’s not the end and that’s not also the beginning of our true history, but it is something to be acknowledged because there’s so many ancestors that fought a fight, that we don’t quite understand because we haven’t fought it like they did,” D.C.’s hometown singer Mya told the AFRO.

According to the Emancipation Day site, the first Emancipation Parade was held April 19, 1866, four years after the D.C. Emancipation Act. Many celebrated along Pennsylvania Avenue then as well.

This year’s parade, which started in the afternoon along Pennsylvania Avenue dropped off participants at the Freedom Plaza, the epicenter of most of the events. Local, regional and national artists such as Faith Evans and Doug E. Fresh were on hand as part of the day long concert series.

The parade, concert and fireworks was the culmination of several Emancipation Day Events including the displaying of the Emancipation Act on Monday, and a lunch and learn of the history of the day on Friday.

“I think it’s an important event,” said Paula Moore a Maryland resident, who has been attending the celebration for years. “So we bring our kids so they understand the importance of Emancipation Day in D.C.”

“They’re still young and they’re trying to embrace what it means. Not only are we telling them about history but it’s also equally important to know the artists who brought us along the way. It’s not only about looking back it’s about making improvements as we move forward.”

Moore pointed out the importance of celebrating events for and about Black people saying, “So much of what we’ve (Black people) done and meant to D.C. is being erased and so its so important to continue to show up and support events like this. Without events like this we’re completely erased.”

Omeshia Herring, a D.C. resident came to connect with the District’s rich culture. “I am not from D.C., but I moved here and I think it’s important to immerse yourself into the culture and this is the celebration of the end of slavery in D.C. so why wouldn’t I be here? I’m happy to see all the beautiful Black people.”

Herring, who has been living in D.C. for seven years and resides in the Northeast, said that events like the Emancipation Day Celebration are, “extremely important and rare.”

“I think it’s important for our fellow counterparts to come out and enjoy the rich history of Washington,” Herring told the AFRO.

This year’s attendance numbers could not be confirmed at press time, however the Office of Cable, Television Film, Music and Entertainment did confirm that attendance for the concert last year was about 4,000 people. For more information on remaining events and a snapshot of the history of the day go to https://emancipation.dc.gov/.

This article originally appeared The Afro

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