Today, the District of Columbia is observing D.C. Emancipation Day, the day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, ending slavery in the nation’s capital.
Signed on April 16, 1862, the act not only freed enslaved Washingtonians nearly nine months before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but it paid former “owners” who stayed loyal to Union $300 per freed slaves, and encouraged former slaves to voluntarily colonize outside the United States, paying up to $100 for each resettled slave.
Over the next nine months, the federal government paid close to $1 million for the freedom of around 3,000 former slaves.
Slavery did not officially end nationwide until after the Civil War ended in 1865, when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was proposed on Jan. 31 and was ratified by 30 of the Union’s 36 states by the end of that year.
Starting in 1866, Emancipation Day celebrations were held, but the commemorations stopped around 1901. A century later, Emancipation Day was celebrated again in the District and thanks to a legislative proposal by then-D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange, it became an official public holiday in 2005.
This year, D.C. Emancipation Day officially falls on a Saturday but is being observed today, which is an unpaid furlough day instead of a paid holiday for D.C. government workers.