D.C. Emancipation Day Could Be Dropped As a Public Holiday

Michael Neibauer, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), March 25, 2009

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The fiscal 2010 Budget Support Act, which sets out the legislative changes needed to implement [D.C. Mayor Adrian] Fenty’s proposed spending plan, transforms Emancipation Day, April 16, from a legal public holiday–when schools and the government are shuttered–to an optional private holiday. That has angered some.

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D.C. Emancipation Day celebrates Lincoln’s signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which freed 3,100 District slaves and paid off their owners with up to $300 per slave. Lincoln would issue his Emancipation Proclamation eight and a half months later.

According to budget documents provided by the Fenty administration, Emancipation Day will revert to a “legal private holiday” in 2010, and “appropriate observances will continue.” The city, facing an $800 million shortfall next year, will save $1.3 million with the change, as all schools and government offices will open as usual. A Fenty spokeswoman declined to elaborate further.

Striking Emancipation Day to save one-tenth of 1 percent of the city’s budget is “absurd,” said at-large Councilman Michael Brown.

“The message is so important as to what that day means,” Brown said. “It’s absurd to take it out. It sends a message that we’re stepping backward, not forward, when talking about our independence.”

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Closing the door on Emancipation Day is “not acceptable,” said Anise Jenkins, president of Stand Up! for Democracy in D.C. Jenkins is one of several organizers of this year’s Emancipation Day rally for statehood at Franklin Square.

“Oh no. No,” she said. “This is our only public holiday.”

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