Full Slate of Activities Mark Emancipation

Barrington M. Salmon | 4/18/2012, 1:42 p.m.

President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 on April 16, nine months before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the enslaved Africans in the Confederate States of America. Slave owners in the District received $300 for each slave.

The federal government compensated owners $1 million for the 3,100 slaves in the city. Orange said that while the slaves were freed, the District of Columbia still isn't.

"We the citizens of the District of Columbia have the right to voting rights in the U.S. Congress, budget autonomy and statehood," he said, echoing the unofficial theme of full political rights for District residents.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) agreed with Orange. Norton told the story of her great-grandfather, Richard Holmes, who walked off a Virginia plantation and walked to the District in the 1850s, which had a number of free blacks but also slave-catchers operating under the Fugitive Slave Law.

She equated the slave catchers of that time with members of Congress today.

"I hope we understand whose emancipation we are celebrating," Norton, 74, said. "The city is full of members of Congress who don't have to do anything to keep the city shackled and we pay for them to do that."

Norton said that it's up to District residents "to free themselves."

"We have no Abraham Lincoln in the 21st century," she said. "Our freedom will not come from a great liberator."

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) said "emancipation is a work in progress."

"What we as African Americans face is not slaveholders today but a 40 percent drop-out rate for our black youth and a 25 percent unemployment rate for African Americans in the city," Brown, 41, said. "We must inspire our children to achieve excellence and still fight for full equality. Free D.C!"

Anise Jenkins, 62, president of Stand Up for Democracy Free DC, concurred.

"We were first freed in the country, nine months before the general emancipation but we can connect that to statehood and say that we're not free," said Jenkins who attended the parade. "We're not equal to the rest of the country. The statehood issue makes it current."

"Really, we have an incredible history. When you connect it to things like voting rights and statehood, I think it makes it more current. [With regards to economics], what should we be doing to improve our community and education? Slaves weren't allowed to read. We have schools now. We just need to make sure they're good schools."

One of the highlights of the Lincoln portion of the march was saxophonist Brian Lenair's rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Argentine Deigh, a resident of Southeast, proudly added her voice.

Deigh said she was happy to be a part of the event.

"We should definitely celebrate this in the city," she said.

Over at the Historical Society of Washington (HSW), in the old Carnegie Library, D.C. Emancipation Day was commemorated with an open house and panel presentation examining the influence of the city's faith-based community in supporting the 1862 District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act.