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Emancipation Day is celebrated in many former British colonies in the Caribbean and areas of the United States on various dates in observance of the emancipation of slaves of African origin. It is also observed in other areas in regard to the abolition of serfdom or other forms of servitude.
The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. Emancipation Day is widely observed in the British West Indies during the first week of August. In many Caribbean countries the Emancipation Day celebration is a part of Carnival, as the Caribbean Carnival takes place at this time (although Carnaval in Trinidad and Tobago takes place in February or March according to Ash Wednesday, not near August).
Some countries observe the holiday as August Monday.
Puerto Rico celebrates Emancipation Day, an official holiday, on March 22.
The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834, and thus also in Canada. However, the first colony in the British Empire to actually abolish slavery was Upper Canada, now Ontario. A British army officer and later the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (1791–1796), John Graves Simcoe, passed an Act Against Slavery in 1793, which led to the abolition of slavery in Upper Canada by 1810. It was then superseded by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
While the date of the First August Monday holiday in Canada is historically linked to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834; not all of provinces' commemorate the holiday as such.
In 2008, the Province of Ontario dedicated its August Monday holiday as "Emancipation Day," which had been called "Civic Holiday" in Ontario & names celebrating Pride in Our Province elsewhere: "BC Day," "Alberta Heritage Day," etc.
Toronto, the capital city of Ontario, also hosts the "Caribana" Celebration which occurs the first Monday in August in Toronto. It is the largest Caribbean festival in North America and was started in 1967. A two week celebration culminating in the long weekend with the Kings and Queens Festival, "Caribana" parade and Olympic Island activities.
Locally, the August Holiday in Toronto has been designated as "Simcoe Day" to commemorate Ontario's first Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe who made Upper Canada, now Ontario, the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to abolish slavery.
The state of Florida observes emancipation in an unofficial commemoration on May 20. In the capital, Tallahassee, Civil War reenactors playing the part of Major General Edward McCook and other union soldiers act out the speech General McCook gave from the steps of the Knott House on May 20, 1865. This was the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Florida.
The District of Columbia celebrates April 16 as Emancipation Day. On that day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia. The Act freed about 3,100 enslaved persons in the District of Columbia nine months before President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation. The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act represents the only example of compensation by the federal government to former owners of emancipated slaves.
On January 4, 2005, Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed legislation making Emancipation Day an official public holiday in the District. Although Emancipation Day occurs on April 16, by law when April 16 is a Saturday, Emancipation Day is observed on the preceding Friday. Each year, a series of activities will be held during the public holiday including the traditional Emancipation Day parade celebrating the freedom of enslaved persons in the District of Columbia. The Emancipation Day celebration was held yearly from 1866 to 1901, and was resumed as a tradition and historic celebration in 2002 as a direct result of years of research, lobbying and leadership by Ms. Loretta Carter-Hanes.
In 2007, the observance of this holiday in Washington, D.C. had the effect of nationally extending the 2006 income tax filing deadline from April 16 to April 17. The 2007 date change was not discovered until after many forms went to print. In 2011, the tax deadline was extended to Monday, April 18, since the observed date for the holiday was Friday, April 15. In 2012, because Emancipation Day fell on Monday, April 16, and the normal tax deadline of April 15 fell on a Sunday, the tax deadline was Tuesday, April 17.
In Columbus, Mississippi, Emancipation Day is celebrated on May 8, known locally as "Eight o' May". As in other southern states, the local celebration commemorates the date in 1865 when African Americans in eastern Mississippi learned of their freedom.
In Texas, Emancipation Day is celebrated on June 19. It commemorates the announcement in Texas of the abolition of slavery made on that day in 1865. It is commonly known as Juneteenth.
Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 8 in Paducah and McCracken County, Kentucky. According to the Paducah Sun newspaper, this is the anniversary of the day slaves in this region learned of their freedom.