African American Day Parade

African American Day Parade

Date Observed: Third Sunday in September
Location: Harlem, New York

The African American Day Parade held in Harlem in New York City in September is considered one of the largest black parades in the U.S. Held since 1969, the parade's primary purpose is to display African-American achievement and pride.

Historical Background

New York has had a significant African-American populace since the 18th century. It was a concentrated center for abolitionist activities, harboring numerous Underground Railroad stops and groups, such as the New York Manumission Society, that worked to abolish slavery, free slaves, and educate young African Americans. As a state, New York passed laws granting freedoms and rights to blacks much more progressively than many others in the U.S. In a 1799 act, children of slaves born after July 1799 were granted freedom. And the state of New York abolished slavery in the state in 1827, 38 years before the nation did so in 1865.

In the early 20th century blacks began to flock to New York in large numbers to escape the extreme poverty and racism of the South and to explore the burgeoning chances for economic opportunity. Harlem is considered the center of New York City's black culture. But Harlem actually began as Nieuw Haarlem, named by the Dutch, who initially established a farming community on the site (see also Pinkster). By the turn of the 20th century, however, black New Yorkers had begun moving uptown into Harlem's apartment buildings and townhouses.

Harlem came to international prominence during the 1920s through a cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. This golden era propelled local writers, such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, and artists, such as Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Jones, and Jacob Lawrence, into the limelight. The Renaissance cast a spotlight onto Harlem itself, which was, at the time, quite prosperous. However, in the 1930s the Great Depression hit hard, and its impact was felt strongly for years afterward. By the turn of the 21st century, an economic renaissance appeared to be taking place, with a renewed effort to celebrate the culture and history of Harlem's past and present (see also Harlem Week).

Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

The main thoroughfare of the African American Day Parade route is named for another notable New York personage: Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (19081972). Powell was a civil rights leader, minister, publisher, and politician. He came to prominence during his years as a U.S. congressman, first elected in 1944 and serving until 1970. He was the first black congressman from New York City's Harlem district.

During his years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Powell worked to end racial segregation in schools, the military, and even the U.S. Capitol Building, where House rules prohibited blacks from using dining rooms, barbershops, and other facilities. He also succeeded in making changes in the House press gallery, bringing in black journalists for the first time. Powell was so consistent and adamant about overturning racial segregation that he became known as "Mr. Civil Rights." He also was known for a tactic that congressional members called the Powell Amendment, which was attached to spending bills and, when successful, forbade federal funds to any government agencies that discriminated.

Additional accomplishments included a House chairmanship of the Education and Labor Committee. Under Powell, the committee helped pass such legislation as the Minimum Wage Bill of 1961, the Vocational Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and anti-poverty bills. Powell was a powerful congressman, but he was also a controversial figure. He was accused of tax fraud, taking kickbacks from former employees, and misuse of public funds, along with other charges. His numerous court cases eventually affected his political clout and the House expelled him for his excesses. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the action, however, and Powell was reinstated. Nevertheless, his political career was over. When he ran for office in 1970, he was defeated by Charles Rangel. Powell died two years later of cancer. Although Powell is not revered nationwide like some other civil rights leaders, he is honored in Harlem with an office building and boulevard bearing his name.

Creation of the Festival

In 1969 a group of community members, led by Abe Snyder, organized the first African American Day Parade. Their goal was to celebrate the achievements of the black community, as well as to provide a positive venue in which to bring people together in a joyful demonstration of unity and culture.


The African American Day Parade is held on the third Sunday of September each year. It kicks off mid-afternoon in Harlem at 111th Street and proceeds to 142nd Street, traversing along Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard. Participating in the event are various local officials, celebrities, and other community leaders, who march along the entire distance of the parade route waving and sometimes interacting with those gathered to watch the festivities. Interspersed among these notables are parade favorites, such as marching bands and dance groups. Members of organizations from a dozen states traveled to New York to take part in the 2006 event, which marked the parade's 37th year.

Contacts and Web Sites

African American Day Parade Office 1969 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10035-1549 212-348-3080

Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce 200A W. 136th St. New York, NY 10030-7200 212-862-7200; fax: 212-862-8745

Further Reading

Hamilton, Charles V. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an Ameri- can Dilemma. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield/Cooper Square Press, 2002. Hill, Laban Carrick. Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Little, Brown/Megan Tingley, 2004. (young adult)
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007

African American Day Parade

Last Sunday in September
The African American Day parade is the largest black parade in the United States and attracts a crowd of approximately 900,000 annually. Held on the last Sunday of September in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, the parade progresses up Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard from 111th Street to 142nd Street. The African American Day parade has been held annually since 1969 to promote unity, justice, and economic empowerment. It features many African-American business, social, and political leaders, as well as performers, marchers, and floats representing more than 300 organizations, including a wide range of colleges and bands from throughout the region. Among the participants are step dancers, drum and bugle corps, service organizations, professional associations, philanthropic organizations, cultural heritage groups, and social clubs. The parade celebrates African heritage and black achievement in all areas, and past grand marshals include such luminaries as congressional representative Shirley Chisholm, New York mayor David Dinkins, filmmaker Spike Lee, Reverend Al Sharpton, and actor Denzel Washington.
African American Day Parade, Inc.
P.O. Box 501
College Station
New York, NY 10030
AAH -2007, p. 3
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Walker Award, The Network Journal's Top 25 Influential Black Women in Business Award, Minority Business News USA's First Ladies of Supplier Diversity Award, Harlem African American Day Parade Honoree, Black Star News Excellence Award, DiversityPlus Magazine Women of Power Impacting Diversity, Morris County New Jersey Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce Community Economic Development's Advocate of the Year, New Jersey Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce Supplier Diversity Champion Award and many others.

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