Thousands of D.C. residents converged on Pennsylvania Avenue NW April 16 for the city’s Emancipation Day celebration.
The event marked the 151st year since President Lincoln freed the enslaved men, women and children living in the District of Columbia. Nine months later, the Emancipation Proclamation became law, freeing the enslaved in most other areas of the country.
The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act freed approximately 3,100 enslaved people. The celebration was formalized in 2005, officials said.
Every year since, D.C. residents are given the day off work and school to pay homage to the pivotal moment in history when all D.C. residents became free.
Though the mood was celebratory, many of those in attendance were thinking of Boston, where investigators continued to piece together details and evidence that they hope will lead to the culprit or culprits who set off two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line. Three people were killed and more than 100 were injured, many severely.
“We’re praying for the families of the people who were killed, the people who were injured and the city in general,” said D.C. resident DeeDee Dixon, who came to the parade with her son and daughter. “That kind of thing injures a whole city. It leaves people in pain for the attack, but also in fear that violence will happen again. Boston will never be the same, but I know that the American spirit will help them to recover.”
J.D. Williams said previous efforts to break the United States had been unsuccessful and whoever was responsible for the attack in Boston will see the city come back even stronger.
“We don’t always all get along, but we stand together in tragedy,” he said. “D.C. residents stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Boston as the nation did for the victims in New York, Pennsylvania and here after 9/11. We care for each other.”
In a televised news program, D.C. Councilman Vincent B. Orange (D.) said the Pennsylvania Avenue Emancipation Day Parade route and areas designated for events had been well inspected.
“We’ve been prepared,” he said. “There’ve been security sweeps down
Pennsylvania Avenue. They checked the garbage containers and there will be a strong police presence here,” he told Fox 5 News.
In a proclamation for the day, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray wrote: “The Government of the District of Columbia is committed to educating the public about our unique history…”
D.C. resident K. Houser Hall compared the event to July 4th. “It’s about our heritage.”
Events included a prayer said at 8 a.m., an invitation-only prayer breakfast at the Willard Hotel, featuring civil rights activist and social commentator Rev. Al Sharpton as the keynote speaker.
“The significance of today is that we celebrate one nation on the day that we are seeing the tragedy in Boston,” Sharpton told Fox 5 News. He added, “We are celebrating an American freedom and a commonality here today.”
At 11 a.m., a parade started that ran along Pennsylvania Avenue from 4th Street to where it culminated at 14th Street at Freedom Plaza, which was named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who worked on his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the nearby Willard.
Ms. Senior D.C. 2011, Emma P. Ward, walked in the parade. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s pep band and cheerleaders, the Thundering’ Hawks, were among the groups who participated in a battle of the bands at the conclusion of the parade. Workshops were held at the D.C. Council Chambers to educate the public about the day’s history. Performance stages were set up outside the John A. Wilson Building and along Freedom Plaza. A concert featuring nine-time Grammy winner Kirk Franklin, the West Virginia State University Jazz Ensemble and jazz saxophonist Brian Lenair drew many.
Atiyah Myers, 10, said a highlight of the parade for her were the 3,100 people who marched who represented formerly enslaved people.
“We were celebrating the slaves freedom and how they were let go,” she said. “They had ladies that were dressed in [ragged] dresses and they were reacting as slaves. Some of the ladies had chains, and they were saying stuff and dropping the chains.”