“A BORROWED DAY OF JUBILEE”
From bright West Indies' sunny seas, Comes, borne upon the balmy breeze, The joyous shout, the gladsome tone, Long in those bloody isles unknown; Bearing across the heaving wave The song of the unfettered slave.
—J. M. Whitfield, August 1, 1849
I like these annual celebrations because they call us to the contemplation of great interests, and afford an opportunity of presenting salutary truths before the American people. They bring our people together, and enable us to see and commune with each other to mutual profit.
—Frederick Douglass, August 1, 1857
W HEN GREAT BRITAIN'S act emancipating the approximately 670,000 slaves in its West Indian colonies went into effect on August 1, 1834, it did not immediately inspire much celebration among blacks in the United States. One reason may be that the date fell just after a July Fourth protest parade in New York City had resulted in several days of antiblack rioting. The event was, like many antebellum “race” riots, a white assault on blacks claiming their right to public political expression, and it reinforced the recent resolution by the 1834 National Convention of Free People of Colour “that we disapprove, will discountenance and suppress, so far as we have the power or influence, the exhibition and procession usually held on the fifth of July annually, in the city of New-York; and all other processions of coloured people, not necessary for the interment of the dead. ” The convention criticized such parades for being wasteful of limited financial resources and tending “to increase the prejudice and contempt of whites. ” The resolution at least implicitly denounced the persistent African-based traditions of music, dance, and “pomp in dress” that such occasions inspired. After “a very protracted debate” the resolution passed with just two dissenters, one of whom, perhaps not surprisingly, was Samuel Hardenburgh, a frequent marshal in New York's extravagant Emancipation Day parades. 1