WASHINGTON — Under a hot, spring sun, bands marched, dancers pranced and helium-filled balloons depicting figures such as Rosa Parks and Marion Barry floated along Pennsylvania Avenue celebrating D.C. Emancipation Day.
The annual District holiday commemorates the April 16, 1862 signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act. The law, which freed slaves in the District, compensated slave owners $300 per person.
The bill was the work of radical Republicans in Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, who would go on to issue the Emancipation Proclamation nine months later.
“It’s very special for Washingtonians,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“Enslaved people of Washington were granted freedom before any other place in the United States, but it’s also a time for us to remember that we still have a lot of freedom to fight for so that we can be just like every other American and become the 51st state,” Bowser said.
Local families and tourists visiting the nation’s capital were among those lining the sidewalks to watch the Saturday parade, which progressed from 10th Street NW to Freedom Plaza at 14th Street NW, where the evening hours gave way to music and fireworks.
D.C. declared Emancipation Day a holiday in 2005, and this year marks the 13th annual parade.
“I’ve been to every one, from the first one to this one,” said Charles Ashford, of Forestville, Maryland.
“I think it’s what the city needs, because history always has its place. Without history, we don’t know where we come from, and it helps us get to where we’re trying to go,” Ashford added.
The holiday will be observed Monday in the District. All D.C. government offices will be closed.