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D.C. Celebrates 150th Anniversary Of Emancipation Day

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Re-enactors of Civil War Era D.C. dress up as women of the day. The group marched in the parade from the African American Civil War Museum.
Markette Smith
Re-enactors of Civil War Era D.C. dress up as women of the day. The group marched in the parade from the African American Civil War Museum.

Exactly 150 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation that freed the slaves in the District of Columbia some nine months before the famous Emancipation Proclamation. Many schools and local government agencies are closed in the District, and a slate of activities as part of the celebration, headline by the Emancipation Day Parade.

The celebration of that historic day in District history began at 11 a.m., and continued down Pennsylvania this afternoon, where marching bands have filled the streets, beating their drums to the tune of freedom. On this day in 1862, President Lincoln freed more than 3,000 enslaved workers in the District.

Patriotic music plays to the multicultural group of onlookers, who are a mix of tourists and people who work downtown and are taking in the nice weather and a bit of D.C. history.

"This is a wonderful occasion," says resident Joyce Baily, who marched in the parade donning a parasol and Civil War era dress. "I look forward to this every year. My outfit is the type that a lady would have worn around 1865."

Baily is member of a group called the Female Re-Enactors of Distinction or FREED.

"Each lady has a character that they represent," explains Bailey. "And my character was Elizabeth Keckley, who was the dress maker for Mary Todd Lincoln, while she was in the White House. But not only was she her dressmaker, she became her closest confidante and her friend."

Bailey proudly twirls her skirt and shows off the fine stitching of the blue cotton dress.

There are a host of activities on the docket in the District, which included a prayer breakfast Monday morning at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel featuring Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Joel Osteen.

The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center is also hosting a special exhibition and will have on display an original copy of President Abraham Lincoln's District of Columbia Emancipation Act. The order freed more than 3,000 slaves in D.C. and was issued about nine months before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

Another Emancipation Day celebration will light up the sky tonight at around 8:30 p.m. That's when a fireworks display will go off in celebration of the end of slavery in our nation's capital.

Correction: This report initially stated that the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States. The 13th amendment ended slavery; the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate States.

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