Press Release

April 18, 2012

When Congress returns to session on Monday, April 16, 2012, we will recognize an important anniversary and holiday here in Washington.  That day will be the 150th anniversary of District of Columbia Emancipation Day.  Nine months before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1963, the President signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act.  The act ordered the release of the 3,100 enslaved persons of African descent held in the nation’s capital.  District of Columbia residents were therefore known as the “First Freed” slaves by the federal government during the Civil War.

In 1865 the Confederacy surrendered and the Civil War ended, and later that year the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which states that: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Emancipation Day celebrations were held annually in the District of Columbia from 1866 through 1901, and resumed in 2002. In 2005 Emancipation Day was made an official public holiday in the District of Columbia.

On March 6, 2012, the District of Columbia City Council adopted ceremonial resolution 19-207.  The resolution finds this anniversary to be “an important, historic occasion for the District of Columbia and the nation and serves as an appropriate time to reflect on how far the District of Columbia and the United States have progressed since institutionalized enslavement of people of African descent.  Most importantly, the 150th anniversary reminds us to reaffirm our commitment to forge a more just and united country that truly reflects the ideas of its founders and instills in its people a broad sense of duty to be responsible and conscientious stewards of freedom and democracy.”  I ask unanimous consent to place a copy of this resolution in the Record.

In the recent past, we have been blessed to celebrate numerous historic achievements for African-Americans in Washington, DC and throughout the nation, including the election of the first African-American President of the United States, the dedication of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the groundbreaking for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  I congratulate the District of Columbia government and its residents on this historic anniversary.