Emancipation Day

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Emancipation Day is observed in many former European colonies in the Caribbean and areas of the United States on various dates to commemorate 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 involuntary servitude.

August 1

Political history of the Caribbean and Central America, 1830 Political Evolution of Central America and the Caribbean 1830 na (cropped).png
Political history of the Caribbean and Central America, 1830

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 force the following year, on 1 August 1834.

Only slaves below the age of six were freed. Enslaved people older than six years of age were redesignated as "apprentices" and 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. [1]


Antigua celebrates carnival on and around the first 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

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.


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. [2] [3] Commemorations include:

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.


Bermuda celebrates its Emancipation Day on the Thursday before the first Monday in August, placing it in either July or August. [4]

British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands: The first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of August are celebrated as "August Festival".


The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on 1 August 1834, and thus also in Canada. However, the first colony in the British Empire to have anti-slavery legislation 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 ended the importation of slaves in Upper Canada and manumitted the future children of female slaves at age twenty-five. [5] 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.


Every year Canadians celebrate an August vacation day on the first weekend of the month, ostensibly to reflect on the gift of responsible provincial government. In Toronto this vacation day is known as "Simcoe Day" to commemorate the first Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, John Graves Simcoe. In 2008 during the 10-year administration of Dalton McGuinty, the Province designated August 1 as "Emancipation Day" to commemorate Simcoe who in 1793 approved a piece of legislation that abolished slavery in Upper Canada (known now as Ontario). [6] This was the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to abolish slavery. [7]

Toronto, the capital city of Ontario, also hosts the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (known as Caribana until 2006), which is held the first Saturday in August of Civic Holiday observed on the first Monday of August. Started in 1967, it has become the largest Caribbean festival in North America.[ citation needed ] It is a two-week celebration, culminating in the long weekend with the Kings and Queens Festival, "Caribana" parade and Olympic Island activities.

Owen Sound has celebrated Emancipation with a picnic for 157 years, and now holds an Emancipation Festival. [7]

In 1932, the first Emancipation Day Parade was held in Windsor, Ontario and would come to be known as the 'Greatest Freedom Show on Earth.' Organized by Walter Perry, the parade and festival boasted famous guests like Martin Luther King Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune, Stevie Wonder, Benjamin Mays, Fred Shuttlesworth, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Though Perry's death in 1968 had a significant influence on the end of the tradition, fears over the Detroit Riot of 1967 caused the city's councillors to deny organizers necessary permits to stage an Emancipation Day celebration. [8] [9]


Dominica: The first Monday is celebrated as August Monday.


Grenada: The first Monday in August is celebrated as "Emancipation Day" with Cultural activities.


Emancipation Park, Kingston, Jamaica 2004 Emancipation Park-Statues-1.jpg
Emancipation Park, Kingston, Jamaica 2004

1 August, Emancipation Day in Jamaica is a public holiday and part of a week-long cultural celebration, during which Jamaicans also celebrate 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. [10] 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. [3] [11] [12]

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. [13] 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 in 2002, is named in commemoration of Emancipation Day. [14] [15]

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Kitts and Nevis: The first Monday and Tuesday of August are celebrated as "Emancipation Day" and also "Culturama" in Nevis.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines also celebrates August Monday.

South Africa

Emancipation Day celebrations in Greenmarket Square, Cape Town at midnight, 1 December 2016. Emancipation Day - Old Town House CT 2016.jpg
Emancipation Day celebrations in Greenmarket Square, Cape Town at midnight, 1 December 2016.

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into full effect in the Cape Colony on the December 1, 1838 after a four-year period of forced apprenticeship. About 39,000 enslaved people were freed and £1.2 million [16] (roughly equivalent to £4,175,000,000 as a proportion of GDP in 2016 pounds) [17] – 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. [16]

December 1 is celebrated as Emancipation Day in South Africa most notably in the city of Cape Town. [18]

Trinidad and Tobago

On August 1, 1985 Trinidad and Tobago became the first independent country in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery. [19] Before independence, Jamaica had declared it a national holiday in 1893. [20]

In Trinidad and Tobago, Emancipation Day replaced Columbus Discovery Day, which commemorated the arrival of Christopher Columbus at Moruga on 31 July 1498, as a national public holiday. [21] [22]

The commemoration begins the night before with an all-night vigil and includes religious services, cultural events, street processions past historic landmarks, addresses from dignitaries including an address from the President of Trinidad and Tobago and ends with an evening of shows that include a torchlight procession to the national stadium. [23] [24]

French West Indies

This includes eight territories currently under French sovereignty in the Antilles islands of the Caribbean:

Caribbean of Central America

On the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua the emancipation of slavery took place in the month of August 1841 but with different dates.

Bluefields and Pearl Lagoon received their emancipation on August 10, 1841.

Corn Island received its emancipation on August 27, 1841.


On 1 July, Keti Koti (Sranantongo: "the chain is cut" or "the chain is broken") [28] is celebrated that marks Emancipation Day in Suriname, a former colony of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The day also remembers that enslaved people in Suriname would not be fully free until 1873, after a mandatory 10-year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay and with state sanctioned force. [29]

United States

District of Columbia

Celebrating abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, April 19, 1866 Celebration of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia by the colored people in Washington, April 19, 1866.jpg
Celebrating abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, April 19, 1866

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. [30] 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. [31]

On January 4, 2005, Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed legislation making Emancipation Day an official public holiday in the District. [32] Although Emancipation Day occurs on April 16, by law when April 16 falls during a weekend, Emancipation Day is observed on the nearest weekday. [33] This affects the Internal Revenue Service's due date for tax returns, which traditionally must be submitted by April 15. As the federal government observes the holiday, it causes the federal and all state tax deadlines to be moved to the 18th if Emancipation Day falls on the weekend and to the 17th if Emancipation Day falls on a Monday. [34] 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.[ citation needed ]


Emancipation Day Parade Lincolnville, Florida, 1920s Emancipation Day Parade Lincolnville, Florida (1920s).jpg
Emancipation Day Parade Lincolnville, Florida, 1920s

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. [35] This was the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Florida. [36]


Thomaston, Georgia has been the site of an Emancipation Day celebration since May 1866. Organizers believe it is "the oldest, continuously observed annual emancipation event in the United States." [37] The annual event is scheduled for the Saturday closest to May 29. William Guilford was an early organizer of the event first held in 1866.


Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 8 in Hopkinsville, Christian County; Paducah, McCracken County; and Russellville, Logan County Kentucky, as well as other communities in western Kentucky. According to the Paducah Sun newspaper, this is the anniversary of the day slaves in this region learned of their freedom in 1865. According to a PBS documentary, it celebrates the liberation of the slaves of U.S. President Andrew Johnson, one of whom started the annual celebration in eastern Tennessee. [38]


In Columbus, Mississippi, Emancipation Day is celebrated on May 8, known locally as "Eight 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. [39]

Though the 13th amendment was ratified by the necessary three quarters vote, Mississippi withheld its ratification document after the constitutional amendment was submitted to the states. Mississippi finally submitted the ratification document on February 7, 2013. [40] [41]


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.


Puerto Rico

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. [42]

US Virgin Islands

Statue of Buddhoe at Fort Frederik, St. Croix BuddhoeFrederiksted.jpg
Statue of Buddhoe at Fort Frederik, St. Croix

The United States Virgin Islands celebrates V.I. Emancipation Day (Danish West Indies Emancipation Day) as an official holiday on July 3. It commemorates the Danish Governor Peter von Scholten's 1848 proclamation that "all unfree in the Danish West Indies are from today emancipated," following a slave rebellion led by John Gottlieb (Moses Gottlieb, General Buddhoe) in Frederiksted, Saint Croix. [43]

In addition to recognizing Emancipation Day, since 2017 the full week leading up to July 3 has been recognized as Virgin Islands Freedom Week. [44] Emancipation Day, Freedom Week, and the culmination of St. John Festival are celebrated throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands with concerts, dancing, workshops, a historical skit, and a reenactment of the walk to Fort Frederik. [45]

See also

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