Emancipation Day

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Emancipation Day

Christmas was a mixed blessing for many African Americans during slavery times. On the one hand, many plantation slaves received gifts, time off, extra food rations, and visiting privileges (see Slaves' Christmas). On the other hand, they dreaded the coming of the new year, when the holidays ended and some slave masters announced which slaves would be sold off or sent to work on neighboring plantations that year, thereby breaking up families and friends.

First Celebrations

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law, turning the day from one of sorrow into one of great joy. The proclamation granted immediate freedom to most slaves in the American South. Lincoln, occupied with the New Year's Day reception (or levee) that nineteenth-century presidents hosted on January 1, did not sign the document until that afternoon (see also White House, Christmas in). African Americans in Washington, D.C., snatched up copies of the evening newspapers containing the full text of the proclamation as soon as they were printed. Shouts of joy went up as the proclamation was read aloud to the congregation gathered at Washington, D.C.'s Israel Bethel Church. Spontaneous celebrations soon broke out all over the city and lasted until the small hours of the morning, punctuated for some time by the booming of the Navy Yard cannons.

In Boston, a city known for its abolitionist sympathies, a program of celebration had been prepared some time in advance (Lincoln having announced his intention to sign the Emancipation Proclamation 100 days earlier). The city's music hall hosted a gala event that afternoon, at which the orchestra played Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. In addition, well-known poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) recited his "Boston Hymn," written specially for this event. Other noted literary and political figures also attended the celebration, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935), John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908), Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), and Josiah Quincy (1772-1864). Another gathering took place that evening at Tremont Temple. The crowd cheered wildly when it was announced that the text of the Emancipation Proclamation was coming in over the telegraph wires. African-American author William Wells Brown (1815-1880) and orator Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) were in attendance there.

Annual Celebrations

Not everyone received the news of emancipation on January 1. African Americans in Texas had to wait till June 19, 1865, when United States General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston. There he issued General Order number three, announcing the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing the slaves in accordance with the now two-and-a-half-year-old law.

African Americans in east Texas, western Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas, and southern Oklahoma memorialized June 19, the joyous day of their liberation, by turning it into an annual holiday called Juneteenth. African Americans in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina,Virginia, New York City, and Boston continued to celebrate the anniversary of their independence on January 1, Emancipation Day.

Early observances of Emancipation Day were modeled after Watch Night celebrations. Some African-American communities continue to commemorate January 1 as Emancipation Day. Typical proceedings revolve around church services that include a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, sermons, prayers, and the singing of spirituals as well the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known informally as the African-American national anthem.

Further Reading

Franklin, John Hope. The Emancipation Proclamation. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963. Taylor, Charles A. Juneteenth. Madison, Wis.: Praxis, 1995. Wiggins, Williams H. O Freedom! African-American Emancipation Celebra-tions. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

Emancipation Day

Date Observed: January 1, September 22, and Other Dates
Location: Communities nationwide

During the Civil War, on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation to free slaves in states and parts of states "in rebellion against the United States." The famous Emancipation Proclamation became effective on January 1, 1863, and African Americans across the nation gathered together on the eve of that New Year (see also Watch Night) and on New Year's Day. Since the signing of the proclamation, Emancipation Day, sometimes called Jubilee Day, has been observed on January 1 in many areas of the United States. Some communities celebrate the September 22 anniversary of the preliminary proclamation. Others commemorate local anniversaries of emancipation, such as April 16 in Washington, D.C. (see Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.), and May 29 in Upson County, Georgia.

Historical Background

Long before the Civil War began in 1861, abolitionists and pro-slavery advocates were embroiled in political, economic, moral, and religious conflicts over the institution of slavery. Anti-slavery groups such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Mennonites in Great Britain and colonial America were active during the 1700s. The first American abolitionist society was founded a year before the 1776 Continental Congress declared the colonies independent and free of British rule.

After the American Revolutionary War, political efforts to abolish slavery included an attempt in the U.S. Congress to ban slavery in the Northwest Territory, from which states would be formed to become part of the union. The proposal was defeated. But in the years during and following the Revolutionary War, whites and blacks in northern states noted the hypocrisy of fighting for fundamental human rights while at the same time holding men, women, and children in bondage. Vermont became the first state to remedy this injustice when it outlawed slavery in 1777. In 1787, the Free African Society (FAS) formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under the leadership of Absalom Jones, who became the first black pastor of the Episcopal Church, and Richard Allen, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (see also Founder's Day/Richard Allen's Birthday). The FAS promoted abolition and provided financial and medical assistance for African Americans.

By 1804, all northern states had passed laws prohibiting slavery, but most of these laws allowed only gradual emancipation, which meant that slavery was slowly abolished over a set time period. With gradual emancipation, children born into slavery remained in bondage until a certain age, ranging from ages 21 to 28. In some cases, gradual emancipation meant being enslaved until the end of a specific number of work years.

Following the British example, in 1807, of banning the importation of slaves, the United States legally prohibited the slave trade on January 1, 1808. For some free-born African Americans this was a time to celebrate. Certainly that was the view of Reverend Absalom Jones, who urged that January 1 be an annual day of thanksgiving. During a worship service on January 1, 1808, his congregation at St. Thomas AME Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, joined in a song of praise written especially for the celebration.

However, the 1808 ban did not stop smugglers from bringing tens of thousands of enslaved Africans into the country and selling them to southern cotton planters. Eli Whitney's invention of a cotton gin, a device that removed seeds from cotton, made it possible to boost production. Slaves had previously performed this task by hand - a time-consuming job. As the demand for cotton grew, planters could increase their wealth by purchasing more slaves to plant and raise ever more cotton.

Abolitionist Societies

Opponents of slavery continued to speak out and form abolitionist societies in most states, including some in the South where an abolitionist movement flourished between 1816 and 1817. Some African Americans belonged to white organizations; others established many of their own abolitionist groups. In addition, dozens of African-American orators, preachers, and writers advanced the abolition cause.

By the 1830s, a widespread abolitionist movement was under way. During the decade, an evangelistic fervor swept through the land, and Christians - black and white - began to denounce slavery as sinful and morally indefensible.

The American Anti-Slavery Society, established in 1833, was a major force in campaigns to eradicate human bondage. It was responsible for getting thousands of anti-slavery petitions signed and sent to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1836. But because of gag rules (procedures that limit or prevent debate on particular issues) in effect at the time, Congress did not discuss proposals to end slavery. Free debate returned, however, when the gag rules were repealed in 1844.

Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, abolitionists published a great variety of materials to present the case against slavery. Newspapers, magazines, children's books, autobiographies of former slaves, advertisements and handbills announcing anti-slavery rallies, sheet music, and printed sermons were all part of the effort.

Whatever the abolitionist materials, they did little to persuade most southerners that the slave system should be outlawed. Instead, southerners argued that they needed slave labor to maintain the South's economy. Some also viewed slavery as a way to convert Africans to Christianity and to control bondspeople, whom they considered inferior. As abolitionists increased their accusations that owning slaves was wrong, southerners resisted by attempting to ban anything and anyone from the North - books, mail, and people opposing slavery. Hostility also flared in the North. Pro-slavery gangs frequently attacked homes of people suspected of harboring runaway slaves, broke up anti-slavery meetings, and tried to destroy abolitionist newspapers. In 1837, for example, a mob in Illinois set fire to a warehouse for an abolitionist newspaper, killing editor Elijah Lovejoy, who was trying to guard his new printing press.

A Speech Before the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society

Anti-slavery societies of the 1830s and 1840s included numerous women's groups, such as the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia. In 1836, the group invited James Forten Jr., son of an outspoken black abolitionist, to present a speech. In a forceful and dramatic style, Forten urged the women to continue their anti-slavery efforts. He noted in part:

It is not by force of arms that Abolitionists expect to remove one of the greatest curses that ever afflicted or disgraced humanity; but by the majesty of moral power. Oh! How callous, how completely destitute of feeling, must that person be, who thinks of the wrongs done to the innocent and unoffending captive, and not drop one tear of pity - who can look upon slavery and not shudder at its inhuman barbarities? It is a withering blight to the country in which it exists - a deadly poison to the soil on which it feeds, like a vulture, upon the vitals of its victims. But it is in vain that I attempt to draw a proper likeness of its horrors; it is far beyond the reach of my abilities to describe to you the endless atrocities which characterize the system. Well was it said by Thomas Jefferson, that "God has no attribute which can take sides with such oppression."

The Compromise of 1850

In 1850, the nation had become increasingly divided over the slavery issue, and tensions between the North and South mounted as western territories sought to enter the United States. California, for instance, wanted to join as a free state. The union then consisted of 30 states, and admitting California as a free state would tip the balance of 15 slave and 15 free states. The U.S. Senate had to decide not only California's fate, but also the status of other western lands.

After months of debate on the slavery issue, the Senate passed the Compromise of 1850, which was actually a series of laws that supposedly would settle North-South conflicts. The act provided that California would be admitted as a free state; western territories that included New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah would be allowed to decide for themselves whether to apply for statehood as free or slave states; and the slave trade would be banned in Washington, D.C. As a concession to the slave states, the Compromise also revised the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act to provide for more stringent enforcement.

The Fugitive Slave Act proved to be the most contentious of the statutes and the most devastating for African Americans - free or slave. The act mandated that citizens help capture runaway slaves and return them "to the State or Territory from which such persons may have escaped or fled." Law officers were required to use all the means necessary to carry out provisions of the act or face a fine of $1,000.

Along with escaped slaves, free African Americans in the North were captured and, without a trial or any legal recourse whatsoever, sent to slaveholders in the South. After passage of the law, hundreds of African Americans immediately fled to Canada. Between 1850 and 1860, an estimated 20,000 fugitives and free blacks escaped across the U.S.Canadian border. It was during this time that escaped slave Harriet Tubman returned to the South and led her family and others to freedom via the Underground Railroad (see also Harriet Tubman Day and Sugar Grove Underground Railroad Convention).

The Fugitive Slave Law prompted many abolitionists to become more active in the Underground Railroad. Abolitionists also became more vocal and took part in direct action to prevent the return of fugitives. In 1851, for example, abolitionists rescued an escaped slave named Shadrach from a Boston, Massachusetts, courtroom, and in Syracuse, New York, a crowd from an anti-slavery convention forced law officials to surrender captured runaway slave William Henry Jerry (see Jerry Rescue Day).

However, Anthony Burns, who fled from Virginia to Boston, met another fate in 1854. His owner hunted him down and had him arrested. While he was imprisoned inside the courthouse, about 2,000 anti-slavery citizens gathered and a small group managed to break down the door in an attempt to free Burns. The state militia and federal troops were called in to stand guard and await the decision to return Burns to his owner. Charlotte Forten, the sixteen-year-old granddaughter of black abolitionist James Forten, expressed disgust with a government that "cowardly assembles thousands of soldiers to satisfy the demands of slaveholders."

Uncle Tom's Cabin

According to some historians, anti-slavery opinions were bolstered in the North by a novel titled Uncle Tom's Cabin. The novel, which was published first in magazine serial format and then as a book in 1852, sold 500,000 copies worldwide within a year.

Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the novel tells the story of Uncle Tom, a pious slave who faithfully serves his owner. After his owner's death, Tom is sold to Simon Legree, a barbaric Yankee plantation owner who beats Tom to death. The story also revolves around other characters who are slaves, slaveholders, and traders, and depicts the evils of the slave system and the strength of slaves who have faith in God and Christianity.

Stowe, who lived in the free state of Ohio, was motivated to write the novel as a response to the Fugitive Slave Law and the repression of free blacks wherever they were located. She based her work on her contacts with Underground Railroad workers and slaveholding relatives in Kentucky.

The sentimental and emotional story of slave suffering and courage in the face of death had an enormous impact on readers, gaining sympathy for the abolitionist movement and infuriating its opponents. In recent years, the book has been criticized for its stereotypes that have carried over to this day. The term "Uncle Tom" is one example. It has been used to negatively label a black person who is subservient to a white person. Critics also have denounced the book for its depiction of African Americans as childish, ignorant, and non-resistant. Still, in its time, the novel played a role in bringing about emancipation.

Escalating Conflicts

White sympathy toward fugitive slaves in the North could not counter the growing hostility in the South. Many southern planters believed that the activities of abolitionists were encouraging slaves to run away. They feared as well that escaped slaves and free blacks were plotting attacks against white planters and industrialists.

Between 1850 and 1860, conflicts over the institution of slavery escalated. As the decade progressed, many abolitionists began to lose hope that slaves could be emancipated by peaceful or political means. Some of the events of the decade indicate not only the deep divisions within the nation but also the violence that was a prelude to the outbreak of Civil War.

Consider reactions to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which provided for the doctrine of "popular sovereignty." That meant people living in the Kansas-Nebraska Territory could decide for themselves whether they should be admitted to the Union as a slave or free state. Armed pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces rushed to Kansas to gain control and to determine the outcome. Bloody confrontations raged until 1861, when Kansas was admitted as a free state.

Another event that created great discord was the highly controversial decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857). The case concerned Dred Scott, a slave whose owner years before had taken him from the slave state of Missouri to Illinois and the Wisconsin territory, where slavery was banned. Scott tried several times to gain his freedom. After returning to Missouri, he filed a lawsuit in 1847, claiming that since he had lived on free land, he should be free. In 1857 the Court declared that no matter where Scott had traveled, he was still a slave, and he did not have the right to sue because he was not a Missouri citizen. In the majority decision, the Court also determined that the U.S. Constitution did not give African Americans the right to citizenship, and territories had no power to abolish slavery until the people applied for statehood.

The decision delighted southerners who were convinced that slavery could now expand into the territories. Northerners promised a fight to overturn the ruling. In short, the rift between North and South widened further. Slave rebellions and uprisings added to the debate. Armed slave revolts had already taken place during the early part of the 1800s, and rumors that blacks were plotting to kill whites were constantly circulating. In 1859, one of those plots became a reality, but it was initiated by a white man, John Brown. A Kansas abolitionist, Brown, along with a small group of followers, carried out a plan to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown hoped to arm slaves for a rebellion. But slaves did not rise up, and Brown was captured a day after his attack. He was arrested, convicted of treason, and executed by hanging.

Some abolitionists declared that Brown was a martyr to the anti-slavery cause and called for slave revolts. This further alarmed people in the South who began to talk about seceding - pulling out of the Union - as their only means to protect themselves.

During the presidential campaign of 1860, four major parties ran candidates for the presidency. Only the Republican Party was anti-slavery, albeit in a token way. Republicans did not advocate abolition, but instead wanted to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories.

When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Southerners believed that the "Black Republicans," as the party sometimes was called, would violate states' rights and ban slavery. For many Southerners, the only recourse was secession. Even before Lincoln took office, South Carolina seceded in December 1860. Seven other southern states followed in February 1861, forming the Confederate States of America with its own military.

Lincoln took office in March 1861, and he still hoped to hold the Union together by political means. He moved cautiously, offering to reimburse slaveholders if they voluntarily freed their slaves over a gradual time period. It was an attempt to keep some slaveholding border states from seceding. But Lincoln's plan was soundly rejected.

In the meantime, Confederate forces began to take over federal arsenals and forts. When Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 13, 1861, civil war could no longer be avoided. The Union and Confederate soldiers would fight each other for four long years.

Many fugitive slaves fled to Union forces. The escaped slaves, abolitionists, and some members of Lincoln's administration began to pressure for emancipation, and in 1862 the U.S. Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia (see Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.). Congress also outlawed slavery in western territories, setting the stage for Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Although slaves in Confederate states were freed, the proclamation did not apply to slaves in Union areas or border states loyal to the Union. Slavery was not completely abolished until ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on February 1, 1865 (see National Freedom Day).

Creation of the Observance

Whether in slave quarters, in the fields, or towns and cities, wherever slaves received the news that they were free, celebrations occurred. Free African Americans gathered in the North on New Year's Eve to hold vigil. In Washington, D.C., where slaves were freed in 1862, African Americans gathered to celebrate. At one church, the pastor read the Emancipation Proclamation that was printed in the Washington Evening Star. "This was the signal for unrestrained celebration characterized by men squealing, women fainting, dogs barking, and whites and blacks shaking hands," according to historian John Hope Franklin, writing in Prologue magazine. He also noted that "the Washington celebrations continued far into the night. In the Navy Yard, cannons began to roar and continued for some time." Some slave owners refused to tell their slaves about the proclamation immediately. In addition, news traveled so slowly that, in some locales, days or weeks went by before slaves knew they were free. Slaves in Upson County, Georgia, did not learn about the declaration of their freedom until May 29, 1863. In Texas, that news did not arrive until June 19, 1865, and the 19th eventually became a state holiday celebrating freedom (see Juneteenth).

The Emancipation Proclamation

January 1, 1863 By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State


Following the first Emancipation Day celebration, the anniversary was widely commemorated into the 20th century. In 1916, for example, a Columbus, Ohio, newspaper announced a "monstrous" celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Over the years, musicians composed Emancipation Day songs that were performed at celebrations. One composition was titled "On Emancipation Day," with words by poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and music by Will Marion Cook. For the 50th anniversary of emancipation, James Weldon Johnson wrote a poem titled "Fifty Years" that the New York Times published on January 1, 1913.

Celebrations of emancipation have not always been held on January 1, however. In Washington, D.C., April 16 commemorates the day slaves were freed in the nation's capital. African Americans in Maryland have celebrated November 1, the anniversary of the day the state constitution abolished slavery in 1864. Since 1863, an annual Emancipation Day celebration in Upson County, Georgia, has taken place on May 29, the day slaves there learned of their freedom.

Tallahassee, Florida, celebrates Emancipation Day on May 20. That is the date in 1865 that Union General Edward McCook of the occupying army read the Emancipation Proclamation.

July 5 is Emancipation Day in Rochester, New York. The celebration commemorates July 4, 1827, when a state law freed slaves.

In some states, Emancipation Day has been observed on September 22 to commemorate the preliminary proclamation, which has been the case in Gallia County, Ohio, since 1863. According to Gallia County, its celebration is the longest continuous emancipation observance in the United States.

On September 22, 1962, a centennial celebration was held in Washington, D.C., to mark the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's preliminary proclamation. The original document went on display, and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller gave a speech about its importance. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, National Freedom Day is observed on February 1, which some regard as the real emancipation day. On February 1, 1865, President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned slavery throughout the United States. The U.S. House and Senate passed legislation in 1947 making February 1 National Freedom Day. Since then, all Philadelphia mayors, as well as Pennsylvania governors, have declared that February 1 should be observed as Freedom Day.

Emancipation celebrations began to diminish by the 1950s and 1960s, when the emphasis was on gaining civil rights and equality, which were still being denied African Americans. Where Emancipation Day is observed today, a parade and speeches highlight the importance of freedom.

Contacts and Web Sites

"The African American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History & Culture"

Annual Emancipation Celebration Day, Inc. P.O. Box 511 Gallipolis, OH 45631

"The Emancipation Proclamation," an online exhibit at the New York State Library Cultural Education Center Empire State Plaza Albany, NY 12230 518-474-5355 (reference desk)

John G. Riley Center/Museum of African American History and Culture 419 E. Jefferson St. Tallahassee, FL 32301 850-681-7881; fax: 850-681-7000

Landmark Society of Western New York 133 S. Fitzhugh St. Rochester, NY 14608 585-546-7029; fax: 585-546-4788

Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission 8787 Georgia Ave. Silver Spring, MD 20910 301-563-3400 or 301-495-4600

"The Slave Experience: Freedom and Emancipation," part of the PBS online exhibit "Slavery and the Making of America"

Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce 213 E. Gordon St. P.O. Box 827 Thomaston, GA 30286 706-647-9686; fax: 706-647-1703

"Treasures of Congress," an online exhibit at the National Archives and Records Administration 8601 Adelphi Rd. College Park, MD 20740 866-272-6272

Further Reading

Blight, David W. "Emancipation." In The African-American Experience: Selections from the Five-Volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History , edited by Jack Salzman. New York: Macmillan, 1998. Fishel, Leslie H., Jr., and Benjamin Quarles, eds. The Negro American: A Documentary History. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1967. Franklin, John Hope. The Emancipation Proclamation. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1963. ---. "The Emancipation Proclamation: An Act of Justice." Prologue, a quarterly publication of the National Archives and Records Administration, Summer 1993. .html. Kachun, Mitch. Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. McKissack, Patricia C., and Fredrick L. McKissack. Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States . New York: Scholastic, 2003. (young adult) Wiggins, William H., Jr. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000.

Emancipation Day (Canada)

August 1 or the nearest Saturday
Emancipation Day commemorates August 1, 1834, the date that England's Abolition of Slavery Bill took effect, ending slavery throughout the British Empire. As a result of the law, more than one million slaves were freed in the British colonies, including Canada. While August 1 is not a public holiday in Canada, it is marked by many communities, particularly in Ontario, where many sites of importance to African-Canadian history are located. Public ceremonies typically take place in Toronto, Windsor, Amherstburg, and other cities and towns. But two sites of particular historical interest, the city of Owen Sound and Uncle Tom's Cabin in Dresden, organize Ontario's most prominent Emancipation Day observances. They take place on the Saturday nearest August 1.
Owen Sound was the northern-most terminus for the Underground Railroad, the network of people that helped slaves escape from the American South to the North and to Canada. Many escaped slaves settled in Owen Sound to become integral members of the community. Since 1862, the town has held a picnic to commemorate both Emancipation Day and the U.S. abolition of slavery, which took effect on January 1, 1863. The picnic, attended by local groups and many visitors, has come to incorporate music, crafts, and black-history exhibits as well as food and games.
The Uncle Tom's Cabin site in Dresden comprises the former home of Reverend Josiah Henson and other period buildings, as well as a major exhibit and interpretive centre on black history in North America. Henson, an escaped slave, settled in Ontario in 1830. He established the Dawn Settlement, a community that nurtured former slaves' self-sufficiency and success. Harriet Beecher Stowe used him as the model for the title character in Uncle Tom's Cabin, her renowned anti-slavery novel. The Uncle Tom's Cabin site marks Emancipation Day with a day-long program of educational and cultural events, including storytelling, dance, drama, and speeches.
Emancipation Picnic Committee
1303 Knights Bridge Ct.
Burlington, ON ON L7P 3K8 Canada
Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site
29251 Uncle Tom's Rd.
Dresden, ON NOP 1MO Canada

Celebrated in: Canada

Emancipation Day (Hutchinson, Kansas)
First weekend in August
Emancipation Day typically commemorates the day African-American slaves were freed in the United States. That event is celebrated annually in Hutchinson, Kansas, on the first weekend in August.
During the post-Civil War era, former slaves in the region celebrated Emancipation Day as "Lincoln Day" in Atchinson, Kansas, on September 22. That was the anniversary of the date in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that would take effect the following year. By the late 1890s, the celebration had been moved to Hutchinson in order to take advantage of its more central location. In 1931 the local government proclaimed August 4 Emancipation Day and made it a legal holiday within the African-American community.
Since that time, a program of activities has been conducted each year. While the activities vary somewhat from year to year, the weekend typically kicks off with a social event on Friday night and features a parade on Saturday morning that begins at the intersection of 12th and Main. Following the parade and opening ceremonies, participants gather for a picnic in the park with food and drink vendors. The holiday program also includes sports, such as a basketball, boxing, or golf, as well as a teen night at a local swimming pool. Entertainment includes concerts featuring jazz, blues, or Gospel performers, and the weekend concludes with an ice cream social on Sunday afternoon.
Hutchinson Reno Arts & Humanities Council
23 East 1st Ave.
Hutchinson, KS 67501
Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 519
117 N. Walnut
Hutchinson, KS 67504-0519
AAH-2007, p. 146

Celebrated in: Kansas

Emancipation Day (Tallahassee, Florida)
May 20
Emancipation Day in Tallahassee, Florida, is celebrated each year on May 20. That date marks the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Union General Edward M. McCook announced from the steps of his headquarters in central Tallahassee that President Abraham Lincoln had ended slavery in Florida under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Since 1997 the site of McCook's headquarters, now known as Knott House and open to the public as a state historical museum, has hosted an annual reenactment of the proclamation. A local actor dressed in period costume for the occasion delivers McCook's address from the steps of the white-columned antebellum mansion. A free public celebration follows, with additional speeches, period entertainment, and a picnic across the street in Lewis Park. In addition, trolley tours are conducted to local African-American heritage sites, including a cemetery where African-American Union soldiers were laid to rest.
Long-celebrated by the local African-American community at various sites throughout the area, the observance of Emancipation Day includes a wreath-laying ceremony at Old City Cemetery and a number of educational and cultural functions during the preceding week.
Knott House Museum
301 E. Park Ave.
Tallahassee, FL 32301
John G. Riley Center/Museum of African-American History & Culture
419 E. Jefferson St.
Tallahassee, FL 32301
850-681-7881; fax: 850-681-7000
AAH-2007, p. 142

Celebrated in: Florida

Emancipation Day (United States)
January 1
President Abraham Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves on January 1, 1863. Although some states have their own emancipation, or freedom, celebrations on the anniversary of the day on which they adopted the 13th Amendment, the most widespread observance takes place on January 1 because it is both a traditional and a legal holiday in all the states. In Texas, and other parts of the South and Southwest, the emancipation of the slaves is celebrated on June 19 or Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day in 1865 when General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas to enforce Lincoln's proclamation.
Celebrations are more common in the southern United States, where they frequently center around public readings of the original Emancipation Proclamation.
U.S. Government Printing Office
732 N Capitol St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20401
888-293-6498 or 202-512-1530; fax: 202-512-2104
AAH-2007, p. 131
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 6
AnnivHol-2000, p. 2
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 210
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 24
PatHols-2006, p. 97

Emancipation Day (Washington, D.C.)
April 16
In Washington, D.C., April 16th is celebrated as Emancipation Day, commemorating the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the District of Columbia Emancipation Act. This law was enacted nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves throughout the United States on January 1, 1863. At the time of their emancipation, slaves from the District of Columbia were offered $100 to relocate to colonies outside the United States. In addition, former masters who had remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War were compensated $300 for each freed slave. More than 3,000 slaves were freed under this agreement.
Commemoration of the event was celebrated with parades and festivities annually from 1866 through 1901. The holiday was revived in 2002, and since 2005 the date has been a legal holiday in the District. Events are scheduled throughout the preceding week, including lectures, speeches, reenactments, and a wreath-laying ceremony at the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park near Capitol Hill. The observance culminates in a day of festivities and entertainment that begins with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in the morning and ends with evening fireworks on April 16th.
District of Columbia Emancipation Day Foundation
4101 S. Dakota Ave. N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20017
District of Columbia Mayor's Office
Emancipation Day
John A. Wilson Bldg.
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20004
AAH-2007, p. 149
PatHols-2006, p. 108
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