April 16, 2011

Emancipation Day

Free at last! On this date in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, freeing thousands of enslaved persons in the District of Columbia and paying the slave owners around $300 per slave. Of course, the act also made slavery illegal in the U.S. capital.

April 16 is a legal holiday in Washington, D.C., although events commemorating the Emancipation Act are generally held on convenient days during mid-April, rather than the 16th itself. This year the 16th is a Saturday, a great day for a celebration! (But public workers got yesterday off, so they didn't miss having a holiday from work to go with their historical holiday.)

Nine months after signing the Compensated Emancipation Act into law, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He thus made slavery illegal everywhere in the U.S. and freed all enslaved persons.

However, as you recall, the nation was torn apart at that point, and the southern states, being in rebellion against the U.S. and having set up their own country, didn't follow the dictates of Washington, D.C.! It took time for enslaved people to even hear about the Emancipation Proclamation, and I bet that, when some people heard rumors that they had been declared free, they hardly dared to believe those rumors. Because of the lag between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the news of such, let alone actual freedom, emancipation is celebrated on various days from March through July in states and territories including Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Find out more...

Check out the stories of people who remembered slavery—stories of extraordinary “ordinary” people who survived the horrors of human bondage and expressed what it was like to be “a slave no more.” 

Mr. Donn offers lots of links to websites about the institution of slavery in the U.S. 

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