Since the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, the citizens of Charleston have celebrated the first day of each January with an Emancipation Day Parade. The tradition actually began with a “Grand Jubilee of Freedom” on 21 March 1865, which included a parade with a symbolic funeral cortege to commemorate the “death of slavery.” In subsequent years, the city’s black community put on a grand procession including bands, National Guard soldiers, tradesmen, social clubs, and school children. Starting in 1868 and continuing to the present day, our local newspapers have provided vivid descriptions of these annual events, providing us with interesting details about African-American life in the post-Civil War years.
The parades and associated events of the late 1860s and 1870s were robust and complex, but the tradition contracted a bit in the 1880s and beyond. The cause of this apparent “decline” wasn’t necessary a diminution of enthusiasm within the black community, however. Rather, the shrinking of Charleston’s Emancipation Day celebrations after 1880 was directly related to the erosion of civil rights during the “Jim Crow” era of American politics.
Nevertheless, the black community persevered, and the tradition has survived into the twenty-first century. The 2015 Emancipation Day parade is still a few weeks away, but this is a good time to mark your calendar and be prepared to celebrate the day. If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating topic, please join me for a lecture titled
“Emancipation Day Parades in
Friday, December 12th at 10:30 a.m.
John L. Dart Library, 1067 King Street, Charleston SC, 29403
For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.