- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2016

Emory Green, 8, lies buried in a pile of hay at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, his arms thrashing around in search of an Easter egg that will garner him a treasured reward.

When he pops up, egg in hand, his eyes dart back and forth among the gaggle of children around him on a similar mission to uncover the brightly colored plastic treats.

Easter Monday has always been a great tradition that brings a diverse group of families,” National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly says. “For decades we’ve been the favorite place in Washington for families with children.”

This has been the scene every year since the zoo started its Easter egg hunt nearly 125 years ago. The exact date of the inaugural festivities is unknown, but Mr. Kelly says it started soon after the zoo opened in 1889.

Thousands of children with their families enjoyed a brisk spring day at the National Zoo on Monday, taking in views of exotic animals and taking part in traditional holiday activities.

George Lambert, president of the Greater Washington Urban League, said the origins of the zoo’s Easter program are rooted in segregation.

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It became a “pseudo-holiday for black domestic workers who had to work on Easter Sunday and were banned from attending the traditional White House Easter Egg Roll because of segregation,” Mr. Lambert wrote in a 2014 letter to The Washington Post.

Segregation of the White House Easter festivities ended in the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but the event at the zoo has remained a mainstay, with about 20,000 people attending each year.

Gloria Knight, Emory’s grandmother, traveled from Southampton, Virginia — a four-hour drive — so that her two grandchildren could enjoy the Easter events.

“We started out at 4 a.m., and I made her take the ride with me,” Ms. Knight said, pointing to her friend Trisha Conley, who was taking pictures of Emory and his 9-year-old sister, Nevaeh Green.

Ms. Conley said that since her grandchildren had the week off for spring break, she thought it would be a good idea to take them up to the District for a few days — and the first stop was the famed Easter egg hunt at the zoo.

Joy Cato brought her 3-year-old son, Silas, to the Easter events for the first time this year.

“We came for the Easter egg hunt, but he’s more interested in the music,” Ms. Cato said as Silas danced around to a jazz band that was set up on a small stage next to the egg hunt pen. “We’ll definitely be coming back next year.”

The annual event hasn’t gone without controversy. In 2014, two teenage boys were shot on Easter Monday, just an hour after the family events had ended and visitors were leaving the zoo.

At the time, some residents called for an end to the festivities, but zoo officials decided to take measures to increase security. At this year’s event, everyone entering was subject to a bag search.

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