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In the Nation’s Capital, the celebration of Emancipation Day is unique to the city but very significant. It marks the day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in living in Washington, D.C., months before the nationwide Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect at the top of 1863.

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Lincoln began to openly criticize the practice of slavery, a strongly held practice among states in the rebel South. As the Union began to assert its power and dominance, southern states resisted the liberal aims of Lincoln. Abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania told Lincoln that the Union could defeat the rebels by abolishing slavery and disrupting a huge part of their business earnings.

Lincoln passed a law in March of 1862 that allowed the Union to pay slave owners for releasing their slaves. This led Lincoln to decide to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C. The act freed 2,989 slaves in one fell swoop. According to historical records, their former owners were paid handsomely.

Nine months later, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and abolished slavery throughout the entire nation. In Washington, freed Blacks celebrated Emancipation Day with an annual parade from 1866 until 1901. According to historical accounts, it was revived by the efforts of Ms. Loretta Carter-Hanes in 2002.

In 2005, then mayor Anthony A. Williams signed D.C. Emancipation Day into law, making it an official public holiday and celebration complete with a city-funded parade and performances.

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