Emancipation Day in Hutchinson, Kansas

Emancipation Day in Hutchinson, Kansas

Date Observed: Early August
Location: Hutchinson, Kansas

The Emancipation Day celebration in Hutchinson, Kansas, commemorates the abolition of slavery. Originally celebrated in Atchison, Kansas, on September 22 - the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's preliminary proclamation of 1862 - the event eventually moved to Hutchinson, and organizers rescheduled the festival to be held in August.

Historical Background

During and after the Reconstruction period (1867-1877), when the federal government and local Republicans governed former Confederate states, the majority of freed African Americans did not have equality or protection from discrimination. Former slaves worked on plantation lands as tenant farmers (renters), often paying their rent with a portion of their crops. These arrangements left black farmers and their families poor, since white owners continued to own the land and tools, and demanded payments that left many barely able to subsist.

In general, blacks were able to vote and some were elected to government offices. But the majority faced white racist attitudes and groups intent on destroying black voting rights, educational opportunities, and economic advances. During a period known as "redemption," southern supremacists - those who believed whites were superior to blacks - fought to overthrow Reconstruction policies. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan terrorized African Americans with arsons, whippings, and murders.

Freed blacks in the South feared they would once again be in the same situation that had existed during slavery, and in 1879 thousands migrated to Kansas where they could find refuge. During what was called the Kansas Fever Exodus, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 African Americans left the South for Kansas, where they hoped to claim free land as provided in the Homestead Act of 1862. The Act allowed people to select a plot owned by the federal government, live on and cultivate the land, and after five years, receive a deed for the property.

Some "Exodusters," as these African Americans were called, established their own colonies in Kansas (see also Nicodemus Emancipation and Homecoming Celebration). Others settled in towns like Topeka, Atchison, and Hutchinson.

Creation of the Observance

During the late 1800s, African Americans from across Kansas and nearby states attended an Emancipation celebration in Atchison, Kansas. The event was called the "Lincoln Day Celebration," and it was celebrated on September 22, the anniversary of the day President Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary emancipation proclamation in 1862. But in 1889, organizers decided to hold the Emancipation Day festival in Hutchinson, Kansas, because of its central location in the state. By the 1930s, the observance was held in early August. It is possible that the August date was chosen in remembrance of the West Indies Emancipation of August 1, 1838, but this is not verified by available records.

In 1931, Hutchinson Mayor I. E. Lewis Oswald proclaimed August 4 "a legal holiday for all members of the Negro race in the city of Hutchinson" and expressed "admiration for their efforts toward their won advancement and their unselfish contribution to the welfare and happiness of all people."

Observances

Throughout the 1900s and into the 21st century, the Hutchinson Emancipation Day celebrations have been launched with a parade. Festivities have included a barbecue picnic, a baseball game, basketball tournament, and other sporting events (such as boxing and wrestling matches), bathing beauty and diving contests at the municipal pool, and an evening dance. Well-known musicians have played for the dances, such as the famed Lionel Hampton Orchestra. The event has grown over the years with an increased number of activities and wider community involvement for the three-day celebration. Some of the highlights of the event are a jazz concert, art show, gospel music fest, and a golf tournament.

Contacts and Web Sites

City of Hutchinson 125 E. Ave. B Hutchinson, KS 67501 620-694-2611; fax: 620-694 2673

Hutchinson Emancipation Day Committee, Inc. P.O. Box 701 Hutchinson, KS 67504-0701 620-663-6673 or 620-669-3931

Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce P.O. Box 519 117 N. Walnut Hutchinson, KS 67504 620-662-3391
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007