Emancipation day in the District of Columbia – April 16th 1862

April 16, is Emancipation day in the District. It celebrates the day in 1862 when 3,100 enslaved individuals in the District of Columbia were emancipated, including slaves who lived and worked in our community. This occurred nine months before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The District emancipation involved compensating the slave owners – at a total cost of $1 million. It stands as the only emancipation with compensation in the United States. Four years later, after the Civil War ended and after the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolishing slavery nationwide – slaves were freed without compensation to their owners.

The Emancipation Day celebration was held yearly in the District from 1866 to 1901 with a parade. Organized by the black elite of the city, the parades began in 1866 as a demonstration of African American pride and political strength. School children often took a day off in order to watch all the black civic organizations and clubs march in the parade. Militia groups and Civil War veterans marched in full regalia with slogans on banners that called for liberty and equality for all citizens.1 Rain or shine the emancipation parades went on, all throughout the city in stark contrast to the black codes of the antebellum era, which restricted African American movements. Where slave coffles had once passed, free African Americans now marched openly rejoicing their new status as citizens.

In close proximity to the White House, where many of the domestic staff had been enslaved, witnessing scores of free African Americans in elaborate civilian or military dress was an evocative image. Presidential approval helped make the parades a success and acknowledged African-Americans had the right to assemble in Lafayette Square as free people. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Johnson particularly enjoyed the tributes to Lincoln and the Republican Party as emancipators. Presidents usually reviewed at least one of the parades during their administration.

The city revived the parades in 2002 as a result of the research, lobbying and leadership of Ms. Loretta Carter-Hanes. She started her quest to bring back the parades in the early 1980s. She scoured the archives for any and all information about emancipation day and the parades. Starting in 1991, Hanes organized events that would commit the day to public memory. Eventually, Emancipation Day was made an official public holiday in the District of Columbia in 2005. Each year, District residents again celebrate the end of slavery in Washington, D.C.

Among those compensated for their slaves were John Adlum’s heirs. He was the founder of the Springland Farm. In order to secure compensation, they had to pledge loyalty to the Union and would then received up to $300 per freed slaves. (The DC emancipation act also appropriated $100,000 “to aid in the colonization and settlement of such free persons of African descent now residing in said District … as may desire to emigrate to the Republics of Haiti or Liberia, or such other country beyond the limits of the United States as the President may determine.”) This compensation process, plus Adlum family wills where their “property” is listed, gives us precise records of the slaves that lived and labored on the Springland Farm for the Adlum family.

Today is a day to honor these men and women and their children who toiled on the land where we live.


Chuck Ludlam

Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff live in the UDC area. Thanks, Chuck!

Frank P. Esposito

Administrative Support Specialist




Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 37012

National Museum of African Art 0708

Washington, DC 20013-7012

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