“THE FAITH THAT THE DARK PAST
HAS TAUGHT US”
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us, Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till our victory is won.
—“Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, ”
James Weldon Johnson, 1900
Just fifty years—a winter's day— As runs the history of a race; Yet, as we look back o'er the way, How distant seems our starting place! ……………………………………. Then let us here erect a stone, To mark the place, to mark the time; A witness to God's mercies shown, A pledge to hold this day sublime.
—“Fifty Years, ”
James Weldon Johnson, 1913
E MANCIPATION DAY celebrations in the nation's capital were in many ways distinctive: for their commemoration of a locality-specific date and event; for taking place in a city of such national prominence; for their long years of uninterrupted observance; for their magnitude; for the size and complexity of the city's black community; and for the intensity with which that community often engaged the issues surrounding the commemoration of African American freedom. These factors do not render Washington's Freedom Day tradition anomalous; rather, they combine to draw in bold relief a number of patterns that affected Freedom Day commemorations across the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
One of the most important patterns—one that illustrates African Americans' most fundamental predicament—involves the increasingly segregated