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In 1866, four years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation ending slavery in the District, leaders in D.C.’s Black community began an annual tradition of the Emancipation Day parade.
Black civic organizations and veterans’ groups marched past the White House and all over the District in defiance of the era’s “Black codes,” which restricted African American movement throughout the city. Children took the day off school to watch them go by. The marchers carried banners calling for true liberty and equality and protesting racist developments like Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.
Those initial parades stopped in 1901, but a century later, the city brought the tradition back, hosting the first modern-day parade in 2002 and creating an official holiday in 2005.
The city’s celebrations continue today, and this year promises good music and good cheer — but it’s not the only place to be or the only way to mark the holiday. If you’re looking for a way to celebrate emancipation and support statehood this weekend, check out the details for the parade and a few other cool events going on around the city.
- D.C. Emancipation Day: Parade and Party
April 15, 2 p.m. at Freedom Plaza
The Mayor’s Office has big plans for the annual city-sponsored Emancipation Day event. The parade — a tradition with roots as far back as 1866 — will kick off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 15. The route along Pennsylvania Avenue NW begins at 10th Street and ends at 14th.
The end of the parade, scheduled for 3 p.m., marks the start of a massive concert at Freedom Plaza. Performers include Dru Hill, Rakim, Black Alley, JJ Hairston, Alex Vaughn, Sin Miedo, Kyaira Ware, DJ Diyanna Monet and Nation’s Capital Chapter of Jack & Jill, Inc.
- “Emancipation Day Mini Markt”: Beer Tasting and Artisan Market
April 15, 2 p.m. at the Heurich House Museum
For those inclined to sip a cold beer on a celebratory Saturday, Black Brew Movement and the Heurich Museum have planned just the event. At the “Emancipation Day Mini Markt,” folks can shop from five Black-owned small artisan businesses and taste brews from eight local Black-owned beer brands — all “in support of DC Statehood and a more emancipated District.” The Heurich House Museum (1307 New Hampshire Ave NW) will host the market in its biergarten.
Entry is free, though local beer fans can purchase a $20 beer flight, which includes six 5-ounce pours selected from the eight featured brands. To RSVP or buy a ticket, visit heurichhouse.org/pages/calendar.
- “Aprilteenth” with the Black Georgetown Foundation: Learning and Honoring
April 16, 11:30 a.m. at Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Society Cemetery
The Black Georgetown Foundation offers the chance to learn and listen in a sacred space on Emancipation Day. The organization will host its event at the Mt. Zion-Female Union Band Society cemetery (2501 Mill Rd NW), a space that includes two of the oldest Black cemeteries left in Washington, D.C., where enslaved, freed and free Blacks are interred. The day will include a libation ceremony; a presentation about Emancipation Day by renowned historian C.R. Gibbs; and a reading of names to honor the 3,100 enslaved persons freed on April 16, 1862 and all those who endured slavery in the District of Columbia.
- “District Day” at the NMAAHC: Live Performances and Special Food
April 17, 10 a.m. at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Here’s a sampling of the specialty menu on offer from Sweet Home Café, the African American History Museum restaurant, on Monday, April 17: chili cheese half smokes; chicken wings with mumbo sauce; steak and cheese egg rolls. Visitors to the museum’s District Day festivities can top off their meals with warm cookies for dessert and an iced tea/lemonade combo to drink.
In addition to the holiday menu, the NMAAHC, in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of African American Affairs, will host live performances and guided conversations throughout the day. The event is free, but registration is required. Some time slots have already sold out, so if you plan to go, get your passes soon at nmaahc.si.edu/districtday.