August 8 is Emancipation Day. But not everywhere.

Posted by | August 7, 2012

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared that all slaves held in locations in conflict with the United States were henceforth free. Black communities in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina have observed Emancipation Day on that day ever since. Not so elsewhere in Appalachia.

When Union soldiers took control of an area, they would, amongst other things, read the proclamation and enforce it. Because of this, various states, territories, and municipalities celebrate emancipation on the day when the law was enforced in their region.

Tennessee and Kentucky, for example, have long informally recognized August 8 as the day. As early as 1875, the African American community in the vicinity of Greene County, TN had begun to hold annual celebrations on August 8th, known as the “Eighth of August Celebration” according to local accounts in The Greeneville American. Last April Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen went a step further and signed House Bill No. 207 into law, officially recognizing August 8 as “Emancipation Day” in that state.

Emancipation Day Parade, August 8, 1924Photo: Emancipation Day parade in Jenkins, KY. August 8, 1924.

“… to honor and recognize the celebration of the action of Andrew Johnson, seventeenth president of the United States and then military governor of Tennessee, in freeing his personal slaves on August 8, 1863, and the significance of emancipation in the history of Tennessee.”

The Gallia County (Ohio) Emancipation Day Celebration, held September 22, claims itself to be the longest continuous running celebration of the kind. An Ohio Department of Development brochure provides more details: “Students were dismissed from school and people attended dressed in their very best clothes. It was conducted in a religious atmosphere. However, such fun activities as baseball, sack racing, hog calling and greasy pole climbing were also introduced to stimulate the interest and maintain the enthusiasm. Bands, famous orators, politicians, parades, dances and queen contests were also included in the celebration.”

West Virginia also recognized September 22. “At the fair grounds, ex-United States Senator B. K. Bruce, of Mississippi, will speak in the afternoon at two o’clock,” announced the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer in 1891. “Then will follow the singing by the states, forty-four girls and forty-four boys, Our Nation’s day, reading of the Proclamation by Queen of the Day, singing by William Turner’s quartette, thence to the general amusements of the day.”

In late nineteenth and early twentieth century Kentucky, Emancipation Day fairs (as in Tennessee, August 8th) were popular among the state’s black citizens. Cash prizes were awarded winners in categories from livestock and racing to music and floral display.


7 Responses

  • valerie morris says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a teacher in Chicago doing research on Juneteenth for a final class project. What I have been having trouble finding are sources to cite that the date the proclamation was read to the freed slaves came to different regions at different times. My family is Paducah, KY, and have always celebrated the 8th of August. A full picture must be presented, not just the final Juneteenth.
    Valerie Morris

  • I’m from Ft, Wayne IN and I started working on a Docutmentary on Aug 8 VS Juneteeth about six months ago. June 19 is like the begnning of the company Story, you can’t pay so you can not leave,the story has two sides. I am from Paducah KY and we’ve been celebration the 8th of August for over 140 years. Can and enjoy the celebration with a Paducahians.

    James W. Johnson
    Fine Arts Director

  • […] August 8 is Emancipation Day. But not everywhere. […]

  • Marsha Boyd says:

    My family is from Princeton, KY and we have always celebrated the 8th of August as Emancipation Day as well as Dotson Day. Dotson was the once “Black” school before integration and the property was left to the “Bootsville” community. It is now a community park and holds these annual festivities with food, basketball tournaments, kiddie discos, adult dances, dedications to former outstanding citizens, and the key to the city is given. Beautiful, fun celebration and everyone who ever lived there comes home for that weekend. Thanks for clearing my confusion about the actual date of Emancipation Day. Your explanation makes perfect sense!

  • Tony Jean Dickerson says:

    My family is from Todd County, specifically Elkton and Allensville, KY. We went home to Elkton from Indianapolis each 8th of August for most of my childhood and I never knew why. As I began looking into my family history I googled a reason why and was pleasantly surprised to find similar information. This info is very concise and appreciated.

  • A.Le says:

    I’m from Todd County, Elkton, Kentucky to be exact. I’m going on 30 and I’ve never missed the celebration since I can remember, as a culture, the Black community has came a very long way and I’m blessed to be able to attend another celebration in Russellville, Elkton, and Allensville, KY.

  • Robert Wayne says:

    I always thought their big deal was sometime in June.

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