The Office of the Secretary, in partnership with District of Columbia Public Schools and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities offers opportunities for public and public charter student participation in Emancipation Day activities. These activities include an essay contest, poster contest, oratorical contest, documentary on enslavement to emancipation, booklet on ending slavery in the nation's capial, and speakers on slavery, abolition and emancipation. Participation in these activities provides students the opportunity to learn about the forces that led to the enactment of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act that freed enslaved people in the District of Columbia.
The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862 to free 3,100 enslaved persons in the District of Columbia. The act, passed nine months before President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, granted freedom to enslaved persons in the District of Columbia as the country's first freed from the institution of slavery.
On January 2, 2005, Mayor Anthony Wiliams signed into law Bill 15-827, the District of Columbia Emancipation Day Act of 2004 that established April 16 as a legal public holiday for employees of the District of Columbia government.
In recognition of this historical milestone, programs, projects, lectures, tours, re-enactments and a wide range of community activities are planned to celebrate Emancipation Day. Students in the District of Columbia are provided the opportunity to participate in Emancipation Day events as listed in the activities below. The essay contest includes an incentive award of $300 for the first-place winner, $200 for the second-place winner, and $100 for the third-place winner. The awards will be given to the winners during the Mayor's Emancipation Day Community Awards Program in April. Principals, teachers, curriculum specialists and administrators are requested to encourage student participation in these Emancipation Day educational activities.