WHAT IS EMANCIPATION DAY?
by staff writer/ dog walker extraordinaire Abigail DeRoberts
One of the many boons of living in DC is the opportunity to celebrate every federal holiday–without working. This includes obscure holidays, presidents’ birthdays, and, everyone’s favorite, Emancipation Day. This year, Emancipation Day was celebrated around the country not to honor Lincoln’s emancipation of slaves in 1862, but rather because it gave us all an extra weekend to procrastinate doing our taxes. When I reminded my father that taxes weren’t due until Monday, April 18, he said, “oh yeah, because of some weird holiday that is celebrated only in DC.” Well, that weird holiday is actually one that is much more significant than largely meaningless days like Presidents’ Day.
Months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in the District of Columbia, on April 16, 1862. Naturally, those freed were not compensated for years of torturous labor or the fact that they were objectified and treated as property. However, reinforcing that objectification, Lincoln ensured that “slave masters” were compensated for their lost slaves. Why Lincoln saw it fit to wait another nine months to “proclaim” the emancipation of thousands of other enslaved peoples is beyond me.
Though it is a bit much to applaud Lincoln for an act that should never have been necessary, Emancipation Day is still a meaningful one that should be reflected upon. Particularly for those of us who live in a city that is over 50% black (and getting richer and whiter every day), let’s take this opportunity to remind ourselves of the rampant racism that still exists in this country and how we can fight it.