D.C. Emancipation Day parade, festivities kick off despite funding controversy

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - For many D.C. workers and schoolchildren, Wednesday is a holiday that not many others get to enjoy.

Wednesday is Emancipation Day, a district-only holiday that marks the anniversary of the date former President Abraham Lincoln freed the city's 3,100 slaves back in 1862, nine months before signing the Emancipation Proclamation into law. The D.C. government and public schools have the day off to mark the occasion.

Part of marking that occasion includes the city's annual Emancipation Day Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. This is the ninth straight year the city has hosted the parade.

Wednesday the parade kicked off, despite previous questions over whether it would take place this year due to funding concerns.

More than 40 groups are marching in this year's parade, including many different high-school and college bands. A new feature this year is fiant balloons bearing the likenesses of influential figures such as President Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

The event included pro six-year-old Kwon Johnson, who led the squad from Martin Luther King Elementary -- much to the delight of the crowd. However, there wasn’t much of one, despite a 30-percent increase in the budget to $350,000. Most of the spectators seemed to be passersby or tourists.

That wasn’t a problem, though, insisted the parade’s main organizer, Councilmember Vincent Orange:

"That's what you want -- tourists -- you want to spread the word."

Controversy over this year's parade stemmed from the question of who would be paying for the parade and celebration. Though money was set aside in this year's budget to pay for the parade, members of the D.C. Council asked Mayor Vincent Gray to pony up additional funds to help pay for overtime for local law enforcement that help keep the parade safe.

Gray reportedly agreed to the deal, with one condition - that the mayor's office take control of the celebration beginning next year.

In addition to this morning's parade, there will be a concert at 4 p.m. and a fireworks show Wednesday night.