Perspective: African American holidays, like Aug. 1, deserve national attention
Black Americans’ commemorative calendar is different from White Americans'.
August 1, 2020 at 6:00 AM EDTFor two decades between the late 1830s and the Civil War, Aug. 1 — the commemoration of the moment in 1834 when 800,000 enslaved Africans laboring in British colonies earned their liberty — was the most important date on the African American calendar.
arrow-rightIn the United States, where the end of slavery still seemed a forlorn hope, many African Americans instead began celebrating the holiday that became known as Emancipation Day. And they weren’t alone. By the 1850s, Emancipation Day festivities involved tens of thousands of people joining with counterparts in the Caribbean, Liberia and Canada.
The holiday reminds us how African Americans’ commemorative calendar is different from that of white Americans. And this has been the case since the country’s founding. While White Americans celebrated July Fourth, African Americans, many enslaved, understood the hypocrisy underpinning a nation that promised freedom and equality but was founded on slavery and routinely denied to Black people the basic rights and liberties enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. So they created their own holidays — like Emancipation Day and then later Juneteenth — to celebrate their own freedom, draw attention to the continuing enslavement of millions of others in the U.S. and forge connections to Black people the world over.
ADADAs the U.S. reckons with its white supremacist history, now is time to foreground African American holidays that highlighted the limits of American liberties and citizenship. These alternative commemorative dates focus sharply on the continuing racism and inequalities at the heart of the republican experiment.
Even if African Americans wanted to celebrate the Revolution in the decades after the founding of the nation, they were not welcomed by whites. As July Fourth celebrations expanded in the 1790s, whites often harassed any African Americans who dared join them. Black people quickly learned to take shelter on July Fourth or risk being “shamefully abus’d” as abolitionist and founder of the Black Freemasons Prince Hall said in 1797.
And so, African Americans created their own commemorative traditions. Starting on Jan. 1, 1808, African Americans in New York and Philadelphia celebrated the day the slave trade came to an official end. That date also marked the 1804 anniversary of Haitian independence.
ADADAt St Thomas’s African Episcopal (AME) Church of Philadelphia, Absalom Jones declared a day of thanksgiving should be set aside every year to remember “the history of the sufferings of our brethren, and of their deliverance,” and conjured up a Pan-African community of those who might rejoice in Africa, the Caribbean and the U.S. For many African Americans like Jones, the abolition of the slave trade, and not the American Revolution, was “one of the greatest events that mark the present age.”
Then, as African Americans grew disillusioned with just how little impact the end of the slave trade had on actual conditions within the U.S., many free Black people turned to other more meaningful moments to celebrate. In New York, for example, African Americans held parades marking the end of slavery in the state. But while the official date for this was July 4, 1827, most Black people wanted to distance themselves from this date and held commemorative parades on July 5 instead.
Soon after 1834, African Americans looked outside the United States to draw inspiration and started celebrating Emancipation Day on Aug. 1. The festivities spread from the northeastern states across to Minnesota and California. They were attended by thousands who paraded through towns, occupied city hall, watched the marches of Black militia companies, and listened to fiery speeches by now famous Black Americans such as Frederick Douglass. Later, they played ballgames, danced, picnicked and partied into the night.
ADADDuring the Civil War, when enslaved people fled Southern states in huge numbers, helping to persuade Lincoln to sign an Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1863 — African Americans had another date to commemorate. In some states, though, African Americans marked freedom annually on the anniversary of the proclamation reaching them: April 16 in D.C., May 8 in Mississippi, May 20 in Florida, May 29 in Georgia and June 19, or Juneteenth, in Texas.
After the war, holidays became a way for African Americans to keep alive their own history, especially as White Americans in the Jim Crow era again shut them out of public celebrations of July Fourth, and erected statues of Confederate generals and soldiers to promulgate a racist rendering of history. Such efforts encouraged Carter G. Woodson to found Negro History Week in 1926, in the second week of February to honor the birthdays of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson, a passionate educator, aimed to empower African Americans with knowledge of Black history, including in Africa and around the globe. His legacy lives on in Black History Month today.
Black Power advocates took up Woodson’s mantle in the 1960s when they invented Kwanzaa, a new event on the Black commemorative calendar. Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 each year, tens of thousands of African Americans have taken part in this thanksgiving festival, acknowledging the shared experience of enslavement and its aftermath for everyone in the African diaspora.
ADADWhen it came to the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron proclaimed a case of the “Bicentennial Blues.” Comedian Richard Pryor marked the occasion with a best-selling and Grammy Award-winning album titled “Bicentennial N-----.” With his trademark mix of profanity and insight, Pryor made it clear that no amount of anniversary whitewashing could cover up the racism and injustice that was as much a bedrock of American nationalism as the lofty sentiments of the Declaration of Independence.
Right up to the present day, African Americans continue to be ambivalent about July 4. As one viral tweet this month by an African American woman in South Texas noted, “I personally don’t know anyone who ever has [celebrated the Fourth]. We just off. So we bbq.” A reply agreed: “And we pop fire crackers because it’s fun for the kids. No one is thinking about the white man’s independence from the other white man. At all.”
Instead, at this vital moment when the streets are crackling with the simple statement that Black Lives Matter, there is a resurgence of interest in re-writing history and marking more meaningful alternative dates.ADADWe see it in the focus on Juneteenth, as well as the New York Times 1619 Project, whose very name suggests that United States history might better start with a date other than 1776. We also see it in efforts nationwide to remake the commemorative landscape. Statues of white supremacist military and political leaders are the targets, including the defacing of statues of George Washington in New York, Baltimore, Trenton, N.J. and Portland, Ore.Read more: The Washington Post »
Watch some of TikTok's biggest moments - CNN Video
While TikTok's future remains uncertain, there's no denying the cultural impact the app has already made. Here's a look back at some of the platform's biggest trends from Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road' to the pandemic-themed 'Bored in the House.'
DAM an African-American holiday! REPARATIONS to Native African-Americans is what deserves National Attention... Direct payments, Land/Housing/Health/Education/Business grants with Protections Under Law END Racial/Wealth Disprities REPARATIONS NOW! Agreed - Christian Holidays are African American holidays. You are FakeNews
OK, what is the Aug 1st celebration all about? The Jordanian government takes aid from Canada and UNICEF to put teachers in prisons instead of supporting education ✍freedom_For_Jordanian_teachers
'Big Brother' All-Star Cast Won't Be Revealed Until PremiereBigBrother is doing things differently for its upcoming 22nd season. I want a TV-movie of the events leading up to this season! bigbrotherallstars Hey. B?!
Katy Perry Reveals Which Empowering Anthem on Smile She's Excited for Her Daughter to HearKaty Perry Reveals Which Empowering Anthem on Smile She's Excited for Her Daughter to Hear
Irvine Welsh Talks Adapting ‘Crime’ For BritBox & How ‘American Tabloid’ Will Focus On National EnquirerEXCLUSIVE: You wait years for one bus, and then two come along at the same time. That’s the phrase Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh used when reflecting on how two of his first-ever TV proje…
Obama: Senate Should Eliminate Filibuster To Protect Voting RightsThe former president said Democrats should ditch the “Jim Crow relic” to make Election Day a national holiday, end gerrymandering and revitalize the Voting Rights Act. You guys are so radical... its backfiring in your face What an awesome idea. Too bad he didn’t have the balls to push it as president. Filibuster Crow, needs to hit the door.. Time to help the folks, that need the most. Filibuster Crow, there is the door.. copyrghtOffice ffjames
Obama eulogizes the late civil rights icon John Lewis, calls for expanded ballot accessFormer President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy for the late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, calling for automatic voter registration, an Election Day national holiday and expanded ballot access. Was it a eulogy or was it a campaign speech? polarizing a funeral nice work obama That’s what you call a eulogy
Google will announce its new budget Android phone on Aug. 3The Pixel 4a will compete directly with Apple's new iPhone SE, which offers the same powerful processor as the more expensive iPhone 11 and bonus features like wireless charging and water resistance.The 2020 iPhone SE starts at $399. I mean if you thought Android phones were trash now...get ready. Im waiting for it Aren’t all android budget phones?