The quest to make the District the 51st state of the Union defined the virtual 2021 Emancipation Day activities that took place close to and on April 16.
District residents celebrated President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act, which freed approximately 2,989 African Americans in the city on April 16, 1862, during the Civil War. The Lincoln administration offered slave owners up to $3,000 for their former slaves and the emancipated Blacks received offers of $100 to leave the U.S.
As a result of the law, the District became the only state-level jurisdiction to free its slaves with compensation for their owners. Nine months later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared slaves to be free in the Confederate states.
The 2021 celebration took place two days after the House Oversight and Reform Committee passed “The Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2021,” which would if enacted make the District the 51st state. Many of the activities, whether virtual or in-person, stressed the need for District residents to be represented in the U.S. Congress like other citizens and for the city to have full autonomy over its budget and local legislation.
On April 15, faith leaders from around the country discussed the importance of statehood in a virtual discussion orchestrated by the Rev. Donald Isaac. Isaac also led dozens of city faith leaders at a clergy rally for statehood which happened at the National City Christian Church in Northwest on April 16.
Later that day, a virtual program on the role District resident Loretta Carter Hanes played in making Emancipation Day a holiday was created with entrepreneur Ayo Handy-Kendi highlighting key events in the District’s founding and Black history and Anise Jenkins, executive director of Stand Up! for Democracy, speaking about Hanes. The video documentary, “Becoming the Douglass Commonwealth,” aired on WUSA-TV (Channel 9).
The District government’s cable channel focused on the history of the District and its prospects for statehood with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), acting D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes.
An Emancipation Day concert at the Secret Garden in Anacostia in Southeast took was held with performances by The Experience Band, the Soul Searchers and The Backyard Band.