Emancipation Day celebrations fill Freedom Plaza

WASHINGTON — Typically celebrated on April 16, D.C.’s Emancipation Day celebrations kicked off Saturday on Freedom Plaza, a few days before schedule due to Easter Sunday next weekend.

The D.C. holiday marks the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which freed approximately 3,000 slaves in the District and compensated slave owners for freeing their slaves.

Emancipation Day is a D.C. holiday marking the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which President Abraham Lincoln signed on April 16, 1862.


“On April 16, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln freed approximately 3000 slaves here in the nation’s capital, and he did this eight months prior to signing the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Angie Gates, Director of Office Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment, which put together Saturday’s festivities.

Though celebrated on April 16, celebrations kicked off earlier this week since next weekend is Easter.

On Freedom Plaza on Saturday, many acts performed on stage in celebration of Emancipation Day including Howard Hewitt and former Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas, who brought his family to perform a spoken word.

There were also appearances from the Real Housewives of Potomac, Rare Essence and DJ Kool, and the Backyard Band.

“This gives us the opportunity to highlight D.C.’s creative community, highlight and showcase what D.C. stands for: and that’s freedom for all,” said one attendee.

“We gave a history lesson along with it,” said another attendee. “My daughters asked a lot of questions of what happened.

The festivities included a parade, the concert on Freedom Plaza and fireworks later that night. 

“The District also has the distinction of being the only part of the United States to have compensated slave owners for freeing enslaved persons they held,” states DC.gov.  


WTOP’s Jennifer Ortiz contributed to this report.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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