In mid-October of 1899, Richmond’s Black Community prepared to have a three day celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation complete with a large downtown parade. The Richmond Planet took a moment to ask prominent Black Richmond men what day they should set aside in the future for a celebration.
Most of these men had been either boys or young men when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, but their opinions on the proper day to celebrate differed. John Mitchell, Jr., the editor of the Richmond Planet, gave them three choices which he printed ahead of their answers.
- January 1 – The day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect (in the Union) in 1864
- April 3 – The day Union troops entered Richmond, also known as Evacuation Day
- April 9 – The day Lee surrendered to Grant in Appomattox
- September 23 – The day in 1863 that Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation public
”Adopt the day the Emancipation went into effect, January 1. My heart, soulB. C. Collier
and means are at the Committees disposal if they adopt that day.
”I prefer Jan. 1. I have to close up on that day anyhow, and the coloredB. F. Turner
people have holiday anyway and won't lose any time from business.
”The day on which the Proclamation went into effect, January 1, isProf. Joseph E. Jones, D. D.Professor at Virginia Union University
the one I favor.
”In the first place I think that Mr. Lincoln's Proclamation didn't amount to any thing from a legal standpoint. It freed nobody. Understand me that it had a very marked moral effect, but the 13th Amendment really gave freedom to the slaves. I believe that we should celebrate the passage of that Amendment, if we desire to celebrate the act by which we became free. However if they want to celebrate Lincoln's Proclamation, the day should be the first of January.Col. Joseph T. WilsonEditor of the Industrial Day
”Although the Proclamation had been issued, I think that the work wasJack A. Acres
done April 3, when Richmond fell. I am in favor of that day.
”I am in favor of April 3d when Richmond fell, because that was the day that IWilliam Bell
shook hands with the Yankees.
”I am in favor of April 3d.Charles P. Johnson
”I prefer April 3d.H. Curtis
”I think the 3d of April is the day, because that was virtually theJames Alexander Chiles, Esq.Lawyer
ending of the war.
”I am in favor of April 9, because when the Proclamation went into effect weRev. Richard J. BassPastor of Mount Tabor Baptist Church
were not free.
”I am in favor of April 9th. That's when we received the blessing.Henry Cooke
”I am in favor of the time when Lee surrendered to Grant. That was whenRobert Walker
the work was done.
”I am in favor of April 9th when Lee surrendered. For the day of theWilliam S. SeldenFuneral Director
downfall of the Confederacy as the day of the uprising of the Negro.
”My opinion is that legally our people were free from the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued Jan. 1, 1863, but as [one or two words torn te]rms or in other words [the means neces]sary to enforce what [the Proclamation] guaranteed, I think that the date of the surrender of Lee would be the proper day, April 9.George W. Lewis
”I am in favor of the 9th of April.William CustaloRestaurant Owner
”I am in favor of the 9th of April, because it was conceded that when LeeDr. Robert E. JonesMedical Examiner
surrendered to Grant the work was accomplished.
”I am in favor of the day of the Emancipation Proclamation was first issued Sept. 23. I favor the day on account of the weather.James H. HayesLawyer
It is telling that no one (save a practical James A. Haynes looking out for the weather) felt that celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation on the day it was released was the right choice. For them, that day had no meaning because they were not yet free to live their lives.
It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that many enslaved men and women in Texas learned about the Emancipation Proclamation and it made sense to them, and future generations to celebrate the days their lives changed personally.
In Virginia, the day of celebration has changed from year to year but as we can see from the newspaper clippings below – it has always been celebrated.