The volume of Emancipation Day celebrations in the District may be muted by COVID-19 but the intensity will be turned up a notch this year amid the push for statehood.
Kimberly A. Bassett, the secretary of the District, talked about activities sponsored by the city government on March 29 to a group of interested residents involved in events leading up to the official holiday, April 16.
“We will be celebrating Emancipation Day in a virtual environment because of COVID-19,” she said. “Even so, the events will be fun and informative. Our focus is to highlight the struggle for statehood. We want the 712,000 D.C. residents to teach Americans about our fight and to support our statehood aspirations.”
On April 16, 1862, the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 ended slavery in the District, freeing 3,100 people, reimbursing the slave owners and offering newly freed men and women money to emigrate outside of the U.S.
The date has been celebrated by District residents since then and become an official holiday thanks to legislation sponsored by then-D.C. Council member Vincent Orange in 2000. While the focus has largely been on the historical aspects of slavery in the District since the advent of the official holiday, the Bowser administration and event organizers this year have opted to focus on statehood.
Events such as “Jazz & The Struggle for Freedom, Equality and Justice with Professor Herbert Smith” on April 1 and “The D.C. Emancipation Story with Historian C.R. Gibbs” on April 6” occurred on Webex. Bassett announced upcoming events such as “Reconstruction from 1865-1877 and its Impact Then & Now with Dr. Roger Davidson” on April 13 and her office will sponsor a dialogue on statehood with former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt, D.C. Shadow Senator Paul Strauss (D-D.C.), former D.C. Shadow Rep. Charles West Moreland, DC Vote’s Bo Shuff and Jamal Holtz, lead organizer for 51 for 51 on April 14.
Bassett said on April 16, a video documentary “Mayor Bowser Presents: Becoming the Douglass Commonwealth, from D.C. Disenfranchisement to Full Democracy” is to air on the District’s Channel 16 and WUSA Channel 9. The documentary will feature such guests as D.C. statehood activist Anise Jenkins, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), entrepreneur Ted Leonsis and former mayors Pratt, Anthony Williams and Vincent Gray.
Eugene Kinlow, who works for the Bowser administration as the director of federal and regional affairs, said during the Emancipation Day season, residents will be encouraged to contact members of Congress who could be persuaded to support statehood legislation.
“We have the support we need in the House but the fight is in the U.S. Senate,” Kinlow said. “In the Senate, we cannot just hope that they do the right thing but we have to work to get their support. We need Democrats such as John Hickenlooper, Kelly Sinema, Mark Kelly, Angus King and nearby Joe Manchin to sign up as co-sponsors of statehood legislation.”
The Rev. Donald Isaac said he would enlist District faith leaders for the statehood cause and mentioned tentative events.
“We are looking to enlist 51 faith leaders for the statehood cause,” he said. “We are also considering activities at the St. John’s Episcopal Church and at Freedom Plaza with faith leaders.
The Rev. George Holmes mentioned the possibility that Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) could participate in Emancipation Day activities, too.
Former D.C. Shadow Rep. John Capozzi has plans to organize a statehood sign wave on the morning of Emancipation Day in each of the District’s quadrants. Jacque Patterson, who serves on the D.C. State Board of Education and works as an executive for KIPP DC, desires to have an essay contest for school-aged youngsters.
On the evening of Emancipation Day, the Anacostia Coordinating Council, the D.C. Democratic Party, attorney A. Scott Bolden and DC Vote will sponsor a go-go concert that will be livestreamed.