The venerable citizens of Washington, D.C., have proven that they’re masters at throwing a party and what better reason to host a celebration than showcasing the annual, historic recounting of Emancipation Day which honors the courage and struggle of those who fought to end slavery and the liberation of over 3,000 Blacks in the District on April 16, 1862?
This year’s family-friendly festivities kick off on Saturday, April 13 at Freedom Plaza (Pennsylvania Ave., NW between 13th and 14th Streets) with a parade (2 p.m.), a concert replete with the sounds of hip-hop, R&B and D.C.’s homegrown go-go groove (3 — 8 p.m.) and fabulous fireworks (8:30 p.m.).
And with a musical lineup that includes EU featuring Sugar Bear — the go-go band whose original members all hailed from Ballou High in Southeast and struck gold with their megahit “Da Butt” — Kenny Lattimore, Mya, Doug E. Fresh and Master Gee of Sugar Hill Gang who made history 40 years ago with the now-iconic “Rappers Delight,” you’d be wise to bring your dancing shoes, a firm lawn chair, a well-packed picnic basket and an ample supply of bottled water.
Organizers say they’re keeping their fingers crossed for blue skies and warm winds but they can guarantee that safety will remain the first priority.
“Last year’s weather was perfect and we had record-breaking crowds — well over 4,000 participants at any given time over the course of the day — and our goal is to exceed last year’s attendance numbers and have even more citizens come out for the party,” said Angie Gates, director for the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment [OCTFME], the point person for Emancipation Day 2019 who prior to her appointment, served as Mayor Muriel Bowser’s director of inauguration for both her first and second term inaugurations.
“Logistics are key when so many people are expected to occupy a relatively small space and we’ve planned ahead with barriers and fences to facilitate easy movement and safety, as well as being ADA-compliant for those who require additional assistance getting around,” she said.
This year’s celebration marks the 157th anniversary of the freeing of slaves in the District — eight months before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed Blacks in the South.
One caveat worth mentioning: the District bears the distinction of being the only part of the U.S. that compensated slave owners for freeing those whom they once held and owned. And to make sure young minds know the history of their hometown, schools throughout the District have been provided age-appropriate educational components so that children understand the significance of Emancipation Day in D.C.
“The parade will be great fun especially for children with local school bands, members of the armed forces, dancing troupes and cheerleaders and of course you’ve got to have fireworks if you really want a top-notch celebration,” Gates added. “In addition, the entertainment showcases a diversity of artists, both local favorites and nationally-renowned celebrities so there’s something for everyone.”
Gates advises people to come early and mark their spot. She adds that District officials will also be on hand from both her department and the mayor’s office to answer questions about City services including updates on the progress of the “For the People Act” (H.R. 1) which focuses on voting rights, ethics reforms and fair elections and ongoing efforts for District statehood, as well as opportunities for employment within OCTFME including those who may want to be part of next year’s parade or lineup of entertainers.
Grammy Hall of Fame inductee DJ Master Gee, who took the mic as part of the Sugar Hill Gang who made history on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand as the first hip-hop act featured on the popular music show four decades ago, continues to travel the world as a solo disc jockey, sharing his vocal gifts and storytelling prowess in over 100 shows a year.
And he says he has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“I’m far from finished,” he said during a recent interview with members of the local media. “I’m so thankful for the past and embrace life every day, doing my best to bring great joy and positive emotion wherever I perform.”