Why We Observe Emancipation Day

The District of Columbia celebrates April 16 as Emancipation Day.  On that day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, which ended slavery in Washington, D.C., freed about 3,100 slaves in the District of Columbia, reimbursed those who had legally owned them and offered the newly freed women and men money to emigrate.  The Act came nine months before President Lincoln issued the broader Emancipation Proclamation.

As a member of Washington, D.C.’s community NOW celebrates Emancipation Day and acknowledges the the continued struggle of  African Americans. As we reconcile our country’s past, it is our duty to rectify the ramifications of that past on the present.  

The U.S. has gone from slavery, to racial segregation, to the industrial prison system of today. The “New Jim Crow” disproportionately criminalizes African American men for low level offences with longer sentences that any other race in the U.S.  Mass incarceration–as we all know–is merely the tip of the iceberg. Our country’s storied and dark history of discrimination is seen in gross racial disparities in income; neglected Black and Brown communities such as Flint, Michigan; increased segregation in public schools across the country; and even a lack of adequate reproductive care for Black women.

On Emancipation Day, NOW calls on our white sisters and brothers, to not only educate themselves on the true history of our country’s treatment of African Americans, but to uplift organizations such as Sister Song and The Black Women’s Blueprint that specifically help and address the needs of communities of color. It falls upon all of us as Americans to stand up, speak out, and move in solidarity whenever we see or hear injustice.

The struggle for emancipation is far from over for any of us until we all  have an equal chance at economic and health security, education, safety and peace.

Contact: Dee Donavanik, press@now.org, 951-547-1241