On the 160th anniversary of the DC Compensated Emancipation Act, how does its legacy permeate education, politics, and family histories?
Following years of activism led by local Washingtonians including Loretta Carter Hanes, the District of Columbia declared Emancipation Day a legal holiday in 2005. Each year, April 16th celebrations officially commemorate the sole example of federally compensated emancipation in the United States, but to many, compensated emancipation is either unknown or not fully understood. This legislation in 1862 freed nearly 3,200 Washingtonians, while paying their enslavers for their release. It is unique to Washington, DC, and explored in retrospect, 160 years later, it provides an opportunity to question the meaning of freedom and justice as well as the changing values of Washingtonians.
How is this complicated history explored in DC classrooms today? What can we learn about the specific enslavers and those freed by the Act? How is this commemoration of a Civil War-era experiment in freedom inextricably linked to the current fight for DC statehood?
On April 7, 2022, DC educator William Jones, historian and Emancipation Day activist CR Gibbs, and family history researcher Stephen Hammond join moderator Amara Evering to examine compensated emancipation’s complicated legacy and contemporary relevance.