Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915

By Mitch Kachun | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
“A GREAT OCCASION FOR DISPLAY”
CONTESTATION IN WASHINGTON, D. C.,
1860s–1900s

We are not to be governed bythe rabble and mob that has been a disgrace to this community. What the people desire is a respectable gathering.

Bee (Washington, D. C. ), 1884

These annual celebrations of ours should be so arranged as to make a favorable impression for us upon ourselves and upon our fellowcitizens…. If theyfail to produce, in some measure, such results, they had better be discontinued.

—Frederick Douglass, 1886

W HILE EMANCIPATION celebrations were held in manycities and towns across the United States during the late nineteenth century, no single African American community maintained the commemoration of a Freedom Dayanniversary more continuously than in the nation's capital. Blacks in Washington, D. C., held occasional January 1 celebrations, but theywere far more consistent in their commemoration of the April 16, 1862, abolition of slaveryin the Federal District, which was observed annuallyat least up to the turn of the century. 1 This commemorative tradition remained an important touchstone for District blacks, but over time the observance of April 16 became less a celebration than a forum for airing personal animosities and a point of convergence for various debates over black politics, intraracial class relations, public deportment, and the memoryof slavery. In manyrespects, Washington's black population was unique. Its proximity to the national government made the citya mecca for talented and ambitious black professionals and office-seekers. The presence of Howard University(founded 1867), the Bethel Literaryand Historical Society(1882), and the American Negro Academy(1897) defined Washington as a center of black intellectual activity. The presence of a deeply entrenched, light-skinned free black elite accentuated intraracial color and class divisions beyond those experienced in most black communities. Washington between the Civil War and the Harlem Renaissance was arguablythe preeminent intellectual, cul

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Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Festivals of Freedom *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Foundations, 1808–1834 16
  • Chapter Two - Maturation, 1834–1862 54
  • Chapter Three - Expansion and Fragmentation, 1862–1870s 97
  • Chapter Four - Remembrance and Amnesia, 1870s–1910s 147
  • Chapter Five - Reorientation, 1860s–1900s 175
  • Chapter Six - Contestation in Washington, D. C., 1860s–1900s 207
  • Chapter Seven - Dissolution, 1900–1920 233
  • Notes 261
  • Bibliography 303
  • Index 327
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