One year into the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was under great pressure to end slavery in the nation. But slavery was legal in Washington, DC, as well as in several states that were loyal to the Union. Lincoln knew that if he were to free the enslaved here, he would greatly anger the slave-owners, whom he relied on to be loyal to the Union. So Lincoln decided to free DC’s enslaved population but also to pay, or “compensate,” the owners for the loss of their human “property ” so that they would stay loyal. On April 16, he issued “an act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia.” In it he noted that owners would be compensated and that money would be appropriated to relocate freedmen and women in Africa.
As Historian C.R. Gibbs writes, “News of Lincoln’s action raced through the city. The joy in the District’s black community was dramatic and profound.” Washington’s slaveholders were paid for their losses, up to $300 per person. More than 3,000 individuals were freed. But none chose to move to Africa. America was their home. In January 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the enslaved in the rebellious states only (where, ironically, he had no power). The loyal states kept slavery alive until after the war ended.
Black Washingtonians celebrated that April 16 and for many years to come. After the Civil War ended, they organized a parade that became an annual event for many years. This celebration was revived recently, and Emancipation Day became a DC holiday for all in 2005. The 150th anniversary is a time to rededicate all Americans to preserving freedom and to honoring the sacrifices of the past.
I would like to take the time to thank you for the support provided to our organization, Latin Fashion Week. The event was a huge success thank to the cooperation of company like Cultural Tourism DC and people like you.