Emancipation Day is celebrated in many former British colonies in the Caribbean and areas of the United States on various dates in observance of the emancipation of enslaved people of African descent. It is also observed in other areas in regard to the abolition of serfdom or other forms of servitude.
August 1, 1834
The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire (with the exceptions "of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company", the "Island of Ceylon" and "the Island of Saint Helena"; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843), came into came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834. Only slaves below the age of six were freed. Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices" required to work, 40 hours per week without pay, as part of compensation payment to their former owners. Full emancipation was finally achieved at midnight on 31 July 1838.
Emancipation Day in Barbados is part of the annual "Season of Emancipation", which began in 2005, the Season runs from April 14 to August 23. Commemorations include:
- the anniversary of the Bussa's rebellion, a major slave rebellion in 1816, April 14
- National Heroes Day, April 28;
- Crop Over festival, which includes May, June and the first week of August
- Africa Day, May 25
- Day of National Significance, which commemorates the Labour Rebellion of 1937, July 26
- Emancipation Day, August 1
- birthday of Marcus Garvey, August 17
- International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, August 23
Emancipation Day celebrations usually feature a Walk from Independence Square in Bridgetown to the Heritage Village at the Crop Over Bridgetown Market on the Spring Garden Highway. At the Heritage Village, in addition to a concert, there is a wreath-laying ceremony as a tribute to the ancestors. Traditionally, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Culture, and representatives of the Commission for Pan African Affairs are among those laying wreaths.
Emancipation Day is part of a week long cultural celebration in Jamaica, during this time Jamaicans also commemorate Jamaican Independence Day on August 6, 1962. Both August 1 and August 6 are public holidays. Emancipation Day had stopped being observed as a nation holiday in 1962 at the time of independence. It was reinstated as a national public holiday under The Holidays (Public General) Act 1998 after a six-year campaign led by Rex Nettleford, among others.
Traditionally people would keep at vigil on July 31 and at midnight ring church bell and play drums in parks and public squares to re-enact the first moments of freedom for enslaved Africans. On Emancipation Day there is a reenactment of the reading of the Emancipation Declaration in town centres especially Spanish Town which was the seat of the Jamaican government when the Emancipation Act was passed in 1838.
Emancipation Park, a public park in Kingston, opened on the eve of Emancipation Day, July 31, 2002, is named in commemoration of Emancipation Day.
Trinidad and Tobago
On 1 August 1985 the Trinidad and Tobago became the first country in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery. It replaced Columbus Discovery Day, which commemorated the arrival of Christopher Columbus at Moruga on 31 July 1498, as a national public holiday. The commemoration begins the night before with an all-night vigil and includes church services, street processions past historic landmarks and addresses from dignitaries including an address from the President of Trinidad and Tobago.
Thursday before the first Monday in August
- Bermuda celebrates its Emancipation day on this date, placing it in either July or August.
First Monday in August
Some countries observe the holiday as "August Monday".
- Antigua celebrates carnival on and around 1st Monday of August. Since 1834 Antigua and Barbuda have observed the end of slavery. The first Monday and Tuesday in August was observed as a bank holiday so the populace can celebrate Emancipation Day. Monday is J'ouvert, a street party that mimics the early morning emancipation.
- Anguilla: In addition to commemorating emancipation, it is the first day of "August Week", the Anguillian Carnival celebrations. J'ouvert is celebrated August 1, as Carnival commences.
- The Bahamas: Celebrations are mainly concentrated in Fox Hill Village, Nassau, a former slave village whose inhabitants, according to folklore, heard about their freedom a week after everyone else on the island. The celebration known as the Bay Fest, beginning on August 1 and lasting several days, is held in the settlement of Hatchet Bay on the island of Eleuthera, and "Back to the Bay" is held in the settlement of Tarpum Bay, also on Eleuthera.
- British Virgin Islands: The first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of August are celebrated as "August Festival".
- Saint Kitts and Nevis: The first Monday and Tuesday are celebrated as "Emancipation Day" and also "Culturama" in Nevis.
- Dominica: The first Monday is celebrated as August Monday.
- Grenada: The first Monday in August is celebrated as "Emancipation Day" with Cultural activities.
Puerto Rico celebrates Emancipation Day (Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud), an official holiday, on March 22. Slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873 while the island was still a colony of Spain.
- Martinique commemorates emancipation with a national holiday on May 22, marking the slave resistance on that day in 1848 that forced Governor Claude Rostoland to issue a decree abolishing slavery.
- Guadeloupe commemorates emancipation on May 27.
- Saint Martin has a week-long celebration around May 27, commemorating the abolition of slavery.
The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834, and thus also in Canada. However, the first colony in the British Empire to abolish slavery was Upper Canada, now Ontario. John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (1791–1796), passed an Act Against Slavery in 1793, which led to the abolition of slavery in Upper Canada by 1810. It was superseded by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
While the date of the First August Monday holiday in Canada is historically linked to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834, not all of provinces commemorate the holiday as such.
In 2008, the Province of Ontario dedicated August 1 as "Emancipation Day"
Toronto, the capital city of Ontario, also hosts the "Caribana" Celebration, which is held the first Monday in August. Started in 1967, it has become the largest Caribbean festival in North America. It is a two-week celebration, culminating in the long weekend with the Kings and Queens Festival, "Caribana" parade and Olympic Island activities.
Locally, the August Holiday in Toronto has been designated as "Simcoe Day" to commemorate Ontario's first Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, who approved legislation to abolish slavery in Upper Canada, now Ontario, the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to do so.
The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into full effect in the Cape Colony on the 1st December 1838 after a four year period of forced apprenticeship. About 39,000 slaved were freed and £1.2 million (roughly equivalent to £4,175,000,000 as a proportion of GDP in 2016 pounds) -of £3 million originally set aside by the British government- was paid out in compensation to 1,300 former slave holding farmers in the colony.
On the 1st December is celebrated as Emancipation Day in South Africa most notably in the city of Cape Town.
The state of Florida observes emancipation in a ceremonial day on May 20. In the capital, Tallahassee, Civil War reenactors playing the part of Major General Edward McCook and other union soldiers act out the speech General McCook gave from the steps of the Knott House on May 20, 1865. This was the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Florida.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia celebrates April 16 as Emancipation Day. On that day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act (an act of Compensated emancipation) for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia. The Act freed about 3,100 slaves in the District of Columbia nine months before President Lincoln issued his broader Emancipation Proclamation. The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act represents the only example of compensation by the federal government to former owners of emancipated slaves.
On January 4, 2005, Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed legislation making Emancipation Day an official public holiday in the District. Although Emancipation Day occurs on April 16, by law when April 16 falls during a weekend, Emancipation Day is observed on the nearest weekday. This affects the Internal Revenue Service's due date for tax returns, which traditionally must be submitted by April 15, but as the federal government observes the holiday causes it and all state tax deadlines to be moved to the next business day if Emancipation Day falls that year on April 15. Each year, activities will be held during the public holiday including the traditional Emancipation Day parade celebrating the freedom of enslaved persons in the District of Columbia. The Emancipation Day celebration was held yearly from 1866 to 1901.
In Columbus, Mississippi, Emancipation Day is celebrated on May 8, known locally as "Eighth o' May". As in other southern states, the local celebration commemorates the date in 1865 when African Americans in eastern Mississippi learned of their freedom.
In Texas, Emancipation Day is celebrated on June 19. It commemorates the announcement in Texas of the abolition of slavery made on that day in 1865. It is commonly known as Juneteenth. Since the late 20th century, this date has gained recognition beyond Texas, and has been proposed for a national Emancipation Day.
Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 8 in Paducah, McCracken county and Russellville, Logan county Kentucky. According to the Paducah Sun newspaper, this is the anniversary of the day slaves in this region learned of their freedom in 1865.
U.S. Virgin Islands
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