DC Emancipation Day has been a public holiday in the nation's capital since 2005. The public schools and the local government are closed each year on April 16th as the city marks the anniversary of the abolition of slavery. On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, granting freedom to 3,100 enslaved persons in the District of Columbia. The act passed nine months before Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation and granted freedom to enslaved persons in the District of Columbia as the country's first freed from the institution of slavery.
Since the end of the Civil War, April 16 has remained a special day in the hearts of DC’s black residents. On the first emancipation day anniversary, the city’s black community organized a huge parade. The Emancipation Day Parade became an annual event that continued and still endures today. Each April, educational and commemorative activities are held as well celebrating the end of slavery in DC. (Note, that in 2017 due to Easter the events have been moved up a week)
2017 Schedule of Events
Emancipation Day Parade - April 8, 2017. Washington DC. Emancipation Day celebrations will begin with a parade at 1 p.m. The parade route begins at 800 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW and ends at the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Parade participants will include DCPS and College marching bands, dancers, all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, children’s characters and large balloon floats, auto clubs, numerous neighborhood and community associations, DC Statehood organizations, and much more.
The parade will showcase champions of civil and voting rights to reflect upon the path from slavery to emancipation - with a vision toward full democracy for the residents of Washington, DC. See Photos of the parade. The event is scheduled on the same day and will follow the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade.
Emancipation Day Concert - April 8, 2017, 2:45-9 p.m. Freedom Plaza, Washington DC. The star-studded DC Emancipation Day concert honors this special day. No tickets are needed for this event. There will be a truck touch in front of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW and food trucks on the north side of Freedom Plaza.
Emancipation Day Fireworks - April 8, 2017, 9 p.m. Freedom Plaza, Washington DC. An impressive display of fireworks will light up the sky shortly after the concert ends.
Washington DC Transportation and Parking
The major Emancipation Day events take place along Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 13th and 14th Streets Washington, DC. Public transportation is recommended. Several Metro stations are convenient to the area including Metro Center, Federal Triangle, and Archives/Navy Memorial. Parking is at a premium in this part of the city. Numerous public parking garages can be found along streets adjacent to Pennsylvania Avenue. Free on street parking is generally restricted to two hours. See a map and driving directions.