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Binary Man: Wipe Out D.C. Emancipation Day?

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life better. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him.

Tough times call for tough action, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has now proposed to eliminate a public holiday--Emancipation Day.

What's that, you say? Well, it's coming right up--April 16--but because the official holiday is just four years old, it still comes as a surprise both to commuters and to city residents, who wake up one fine spring morning each year to learn that the reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue aren't reversing, and the trash isn't being picked up, and on and on.

Binary Man loves holidays, especially ones that have a real and meaningful connection with great stories in history, and this one certainly qualifies in that regard:

Emancipation Day commemorates the fact that Abe Lincoln freed the District's 3,000 slaves in 1862, almost nine months before he issued his historic Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery nationwide.

Interestingly, Lincoln did not extend the D.C. model to the rest of the nation, perhaps because it would have been too cumbersome (and expensive) a process. The District's slaves were freed immediately, and were then given the option of being given $100 each and free passage to locations outside the United States where they could create colonies. The plan also compensated former slave owners who were loyal to the Union with up to $300 for each freed slave. The compensation and colonization models were dropped when emancipation went nationwide.

But as fascinating and important a piece of history as D.C. emancipation was, the story of how the day became a city holiday is a contemporary and not terribly thrilling one. The anniversary of the freeing of the slaves was celebrated with parades through the latter part of the 19th century, but after that, nothing special would happen each April 16--until the D.C. Council, prodded by former Ward 5 member Vincent Orange, passed a bill to pay for an annual parade and create a day off for city workers.

The drive to create the holiday was led by Loretta Carter Hanes, a founder of the city's Reading Is Fundamental group. Hanes, though limited to a wheelchair, collected hundreds of signatures on a petition and pushed for more than a decade, finally winning the city's first public holiday of its own.

So: Keep the holiday, or get rid of it?

The Fenty administration argues that scrapping the holiday would save about $2 million--the amount the city has had to spend each Emancipation Day to keep police and fire workers on the job even though the rest of the workforce has the day off. In the scheme of a $5 billion budget, that's a pittance, so Binary Man is not remotely convinced by a purely financial argument.

But the fact that even after four years, hardly anyone knows the holiday exists, and the fact that the city's public employees already suffer from a reputation as a less than fully energetic and engaged workforce add up to a much more persuasive reason to get rid of a holiday that simply has not raised awareness about that splendid and intriguing moment in history.

A holiday, Binary Man believes, ought to celebrate or commemorate something that is already meaningful to the people; holidays ought not be imposed from on high. Sure, everyone loves another day off, especially in the early days of spring, but the holidays that really stick, that really give us both a chance to relax and an opportunity to reflect, are the ones that remind us of people or events that organically became part of the culture's storyline--Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, the Fourth of July.

A local holiday would have a tough time making that grade; this one hasn't and there's no reason to believe it would. Let it go.

Agree, disagree? Let us know in the poll and on the message board below--

By Marc Fisher |  March 30, 2009; 8:22 AM ET
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Mayor Fenty has already said that the front line workers will not get any pay raises in 2010. But I have not heard him suggest that his already high priced executive cabinet will not get any bonuses. If the "city" must take cuts by getting rid of Emancipation Day then let every one feel the freedom of this economy and cut the city budget by eliminating ALL executive bonuses. The City Council should take up immediate legislation and re-evaluate the "cash" bonuses system since the city is so hard pressed for funds. No holiday, no front line cost of living increases and no executive bonuses. Look at all contracts with the Mayor's executive branch and halt them immediately due to the economic constraints of the budget. If the federal government can take a hit...then there is no "logical" reason that the District government cannot take a hit across the board.

Posted by: *bearcat | March 30, 2009 9:43 AM

What, members of the Mayor's cabinet get bonuses?

Posted by: Postnote01 | March 30, 2009 11:18 AM

or maybe DC can celebrate Juneteenth which is more in line with the country.

Posted by: nall92 | March 30, 2009 1:20 PM

This decision should be made by the DC Residents who actually live, pay taxes and actually work here in the Nation's Capitol...period.

It is our history and shouldn't involve critism from those around the beltway whose interest is not the majority.

Posted by: wardofthecourt | March 30, 2009 1:29 PM

Most cities have a taxi system that charges $2.00 per mile and that brings cash flow into the city. But at least here, the mayor has had the pleasure of humiliating the cab industry and protecting his ego.

Posted by: starclimber9 | March 30, 2009 2:20 PM

Emancipation Day is important for the citizens of the District, and since this is the nation's capitol, arguably for all America. Slavery ended here first (apparently). I am a District resident and I do feel it is important. Understanding the meaning of holidays is a matter of education.

Much as I agree that 2M is a drop in the bucket vis-a-vis a 5B budget, I have heard it said that it represents about 23 workers annual salary. I came up with about 40 workers at 50K per annum or 33 workers at 60K. One solution-pay DC "essential employee" workers their normal wage without the holiday incentive pay(unions will have a caniption but may be reasonable). Better still, cancel the bunuses of executive staff. Wonder what that adds up to?

Posted by: Bfeely600 | March 30, 2009 3:24 PM

I oppose the Mayor eliminating D. C. Emancipation Day, because he is denying the residents of the District a chance to observe an important aspect of U.S. history, as well, as the history of D.C. Why you and your readers don't know a lot about this holiday, is because this Mayor has done little to expose the history while as Mayor, and when he was a councilmember, opposed the holiday legislation bill, then. The city has done a lackluster job of educating about this holiday, however there has been some consistency within members of the community to support the work of Sister Loretta Carter Hanes, in reviving D. C. Emancipation Day. Money was legislated towards a D. C. Emancipation Commission for the education furtherance of the holiday and many have asked what has the funding been used for. Despite the low-level of committment by this Mayor towards April 16th, people have marched, held programs and will again with or without the Mayor. Sorry to say, the Mayor doesn't get it -- cultural tourism brings in money because of the high-interest. When culture is properly exposed and marketed, this holiday - April 16th, could be a viable tourism attraction, that could pay for itself, as well as, help the city profit. Total lack of vision here.

For the person who suggested celebrate Juneteenth, this community, like many across the country, does have such celebrations, but D.C. Emancipation Day, April 16th, is uniquely ours.

My organization will have a listing of the activities for April 16th, 2009, shortly. We are part of a coaliton, Friends of D. C. Emancipation Day. We will be testifying on April 23 to keep the funding in the budget, and we will be asking the council to give the citizens of D.C., a full accounting of previous funding. Please join us.

Posted by: ayomeansjoy | March 30, 2009 9:53 PM

As an African American, I think that Emancipation Day is very important, and it does remind me of people and events that are an intrinsic part of my culture's storyline. Perhaps Mr. Fisher thinks that that African American culture only has three-fifths the value of European American culture. Perhaps the mayor agrees and thus, it's not worth the effort and expense to celebrate and heighten the awareness of the general population regarding the history of Africans in America. Maybe he will consider giving us all $100.00 and a ticket out of the country. Obviously we are considered to be of little value so why not get rid of us all together. Also, we wouldn't be around to vote in the next election.

If the measure of the importance of a holiday is how people spend there time off on that holiday then they all should go. After all, most stores are open till midnight every day, so we don’t need a Presidents Day, and the Fourth of July, etc to shop. And if the mayor wants to save money then he should start with doing away with D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi who I'm sure has a six figure salary, and allowed over $60,000,000.00 tax payer dollars to be stolen under his watch. But no, he would keep Gandi who lost tens of millions of our tax dollars and penalize the tax payers (yes city workers are tax payers) to save $2,000,000.00.

DC for many years has been viewed by African Americans as a one of the few American cities where African Americans had power. The establishment of the Emancipation Day holiday is symbolic of the power which the Districts majority Black citizenry possesses. It’s the power to bring recognition to their history and to honor African-American culture in a major way. It's a shame that Mayor Fenty, who is also a symbol of the power of Black DC residents to exert their will, is the one who is proposing to eliminate this very unique and special holiday. Some things are priceless; this is one of those things.

Posted by: ilscottjr | March 31, 2009 10:26 AM

Yes, life on the plantation is rather unreliable, isn't it?

Binary Man, you bring to light our interplanetary juxtaposition between yesterday and tomorrow.

The planets have aligned under the current plantation administrator who embezzles that which is not his; Master Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation and his untimely assassination another secessionist claim make.

That Generations of Freedmen’s celebrations and their souls sacrificed to victory. Generations pass and they found eternity and final journey to Freedom Land and the planets beyond.

Ten generations now out of favor Mayor Fenty a D.C. government benefactor represents rejection of Washingtonian antecedent’s Freedman and Slaves honored that Great in Day of 1860.

Democrats in power again repeat their political party powers to end official celebrations like the 13th Amendment, revised Slave's rights and the Emancipation celebration of 1860.

Not even Mayor Washington or Barry, hizzoner for life, nor or it's Congresswoman the single-sex queen of D.C. ever held favor in the District for that great day one hundred forty-nine years past.

To the antecedents of the great Freedoms beneficiaries, celebrate your Freedoms, and stop voting to office the same political party that was always against your freedman past.

Forget Mayor Fenty is taking away the cash, his government never appreciated the Emancipation’s purpose anyway, and they only take the cash.

Go back, go back, and look into the past, the glory a president's victory. The souls long journey to Freedom Land brought a history and glory remember.

Celebrate your day and remember, leave your Democrats you elected, and next vote make a vote to yourselves but remember, when you vote secessionist, your voting against those that were made Free from secessions representatives that Democratic Party bloc that now keeps you from your vote, your children from funded education, and rights to arms.

So celebrate your Freedoms and remember to remember and don’t let history be forgotten, it’s only just your past.

Posted by: eglobegus | March 31, 2009 3:01 PM

I think Emancipation Day is a great to mark, just not with a day off from school. Use the day to educate our children ... in general as well as about slavery ... rather than closing the schools yet again. This year, Emancipation day comes within a week of two school holidays for Easter and within two weeks of Spring Break. Keep our kids in school and help them learn, that would be the best way to celebrate this holiday.

Posted by: dcpsparent | March 31, 2009 3:08 PM

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