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Celebrate Emancipation Day

The flag of the United States of America flying with a blue sky in the background

Emancipation Day, held on April 16, marks the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln signing the Compensated Emancipation Act. Signed on April 16, 1862, and originally sponsored by Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, the act freed more than 3000 slaves in the District of Columbia. However, slavery did not officially end in the rest of the United States until after the American Civil War in 1865, with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Even if you’re not in Washington D.C., you can celebrate your freedom – from high car insurance rates – get an auto insurance quote today.

Emancipation Day is a legal holiday in Washington D.C. and has been celebrated since 1866 – local government offices are closed as well as many public services; however, there are no changes to public transit services. If the date falls on a weekend, the holiday is held on the nearest weekday, either Friday or Monday.

13th Amendment Facts

  • Proposed on January 31, 1865
  • Ratified by 30 of the existing 36 states in the same year
  • Ratified in Mississippi in 1995


On January 4, 2005, legislation was signed to make Emancipation Day an official public holiday in the District of Columbia. Elsewhere in the United States, the emancipation of slaves is celebrated in Florida (May 20), Puerto Rico (March 22) and Texas (June 19).

Through the Compensated Emancipation Act, the government paid nine hundred slaveholders in the District of Columbia approximately $300 for each slave they had previously owned.

On Emancipation Day, Pennsylvania Avenue is filled with activity, including a parade of military, students and bands, followed by a colorful festival. At the end of the day after the festival, the crowds are treated to an impressive fireworks show.

Schedule of Events

  • 9:00 a.m.Wreath Laying Ceremony at the African American Civil War Memorial, Vermont Avenue & U Street, NW Washington DC. Free and open to the public.
  • 11:00 a.m. – Parade along Pennsylvania Avenue
  • 1:30 p.m. – Educational workshops in the John A. Wilson District Building
  • 4:00 p.m. – Concert on Freedom Plaza featuring Doug E. Fresh, Black Alley band, DJ Kool, Arrested Development, Talib Kweli, and Raheem DeVaugh
  • 8:30 p.m. – Fireworks show


Create your own fireworks with low car insurance rates all year long – contact your agent today.


Do you think Emancipation Day should be a national holiday?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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