Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day is observed in many former European colonies in the Caribbean and areas of the United States on various dates to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people of African descent.

It is also observed in other areas in regard to the abolition of serfdom or other forms of involuntary servitude.


August 1, 1834

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire (with the exceptions "of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company", the "Island of Ceylon" and "the Island of Saint Helena"; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843), came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834.

Only slaves below the age of six were freed. Enslaved people older than six years of age were redesignated as "apprentices" and required to work, 40 hours per week without pay, as part of compensation payment to their former owners. Full emancipation was finally achieved at midnight on 31 July 1838.[1]


Emancipation Day in Barbados is part of the annual "Season of Emancipation", which began in 2005. The Season runs from April 14 to August 23.[2][3] Commemorations include:

Emancipation Day celebrations usually feature a walk from Independence Square in Bridgetown to the Heritage Village at the Crop Over Bridgetown Market on the Spring Garden Highway. At the Heritage Village, in addition to a concert, there is a wreath-laying ceremony as a tribute to the ancestors. Traditionally, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Culture, and representatives of the Commission for Pan African Affairs are among those laying wreaths.


Emancipation Day in Jamaica is a public holiday and part of a week-long cultural celebration, during which Jamaicans also celebrate Jamaican Independence Day on August 6, 1962. Both August 1 and August 6 are public holidays.

Emancipation Day had stopped being observed as a nation holiday in 1962 at the time of independence.[4] It was reinstated as a national public holiday under The Holidays (Public General) Act 1998 after a six-year campaign led by Rex Nettleford, among others.[3][5][6]

Traditionally people would keep at vigil on July 31 and at midnight ring church bell and play drums in parks and public squares to re-enact the first moments of freedom for enslaved Africans.[7] On Emancipation Day there is a reenactment of the reading of the Emancipation Declaration in town centres especially Spanish Town which was the seat of the Jamaican government when the Emancipation Act was passed in 1838.

Emancipation Park, a public park in Kingston, opened on the eve of Emancipation Day, July 31 in 2002, is named in commemoration of Emancipation Day.[8][9]

Trinidad and Tobago

On August 1, 1985 Trinidad and Tobago became the first country in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery.[10]

It replaced Columbus Discovery Day, which commemorated the arrival of Christopher Columbus at Moruga on 31 July 1498, as a national public holiday.[11][12]

The commemoration begins the night before with an all-night vigil and includes religious services, cultural events, street processions past historic landmarks, addresses from dignitaries including an address from the President of Trinidad and Tobago and ends with an evening of shows that include a torchlight procession to the national stadium.[13][14]

Thursday before the first Monday in August

  • Bermuda celebrates its Emancipation day on this date, placing it in either July or August.[15]

First Monday in August

Some countries observe the holiday as "August Monday".

  • Antigua celebrates carnival on and around the first Monday of August. Since 1834 Antigua and Barbuda have observed the end of slavery. The first Monday and Tuesday in August was observed as a bank holiday so the populace can celebrate Emancipation Day. Monday is J'ouvert, a street party that mimics the early morning emancipation.
  • Anguilla: In addition to commemorating emancipation, it is the first day of "August Week", the Anguillian Carnival celebrations. J'ouvert is celebrated August 1, as Carnival commences.
  • The Bahamas: Celebrations are mainly concentrated in Fox Hill Village, Nassau, a former slave village whose inhabitants, according to folklore, heard about their freedom a week after everyone else on the island. The celebration known as the Bay Fest, beginning on August 1 and lasting several days, is held in the settlement of Hatchet Bay on the island of Eleuthera, and "Back to the Bay" is held in the settlement of Tarpum Bay, also on Eleuthera.
  • British Virgin Islands: The first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of August are celebrated as "August Festival".
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis: The first Monday and Tuesday are celebrated as "Emancipation Day" and also "Culturama" in Nevis.
  • Dominica: The first Monday is celebrated as August Monday.
  • Grenada: The first Monday in August is celebrated as "Emancipation Day" with Cultural activities.
  • Martinique commemorates emancipation with a national holiday on May 22,[16] marking the slave resistance on that day in 1848 that forced Governor Claude Rostoland to issue a decree abolishing slavery.[17]
  • Guadeloupe commemorates emancipation on May 27.[16]
  • Saint Martin has a week-long celebration around May 27, commemorating the abolition of slavery.[18]
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Caribbean of Central America

On the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua the emancipation of slavery took place in the month of August 1841 but with different dates.

Bluefields and Pearl Lagoon received their emancipation on August 10, 1841.

Corn Island received its emancipation on August 27, 1841.


The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834, and thus also in Canada. However, the first colony in the British Empire to have anti-slavery legislation was Upper Canada, now Ontario. John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (1791–1796), passed an Act Against Slavery in 1793, which ended the importation of slaves in Upper Canada and manumitted the future children of female slaves at age twenty-five. Unfortunately, it did not free a single slave.[19] It was superseded by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

While the date of the First August Monday holiday in Canada is historically linked to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834, not all of provinces commemorate the holiday as such.


In 2008, the Province of Ontario dedicated August 1 as "Emancipation Day"[20]

Toronto, the capital city of Ontario, also hosts Caribana, which is held the first Monday in August. Started in 1967, it has become the largest Caribbean festival in North America. It is a two-week celebration, culminating in the long weekend with the Kings and Queens Festival, "Caribana" parade and Olympic Island activities.

Owen Sound has celebrated Emancipation with a picnic for 157 years, and now holds an Emancipation Festival.

Locally, the August Holiday in Toronto has been designated as "Simcoe Day" to commemorate Ontario's first Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, who in 1793 approved legislation to reduce slavery in Upper Canada, now Ontario, the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to do so.

South Africa

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into full effect in the Cape Colony on the December 1, 1838 after a four-year period of forced apprenticeship. About 39,000 enslaved people were freed and £1.2 million[21] (roughly equivalent to £4,175,000,000 as a proportion of GDP in 2016 pounds)[22] – of £3 million originally set aside by the British government – was paid out in compensation to 1,300 former slave holding farmers in the colony.[21]

December 1 is celebrated as Emancipation Day in South Africa most notably in the city of Cape Town.[23]

United States and territories

United States


The state of Florida observes emancipation in a ceremonial day on May 20. In the capital, Tallahassee, Civil War reenactors playing the part of Major General Edward McCook and other union soldiers act out the speech General McCook gave from the steps of the Knott House on May 20, 1865.[24] This was the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Florida.[25]


Thomaston, Georgia has been the site of an Emancipation Day celebration since May 1866. Organizers believe it is "the oldest, continuously observed annual emancipation event in the United States."[26] The annual event is scheduled for the Saturday closest to May 29. William Guilford was an early organizer of the event first held in 1866.

District of Columbia

The District of Columbia celebrates April 16 as Emancipation Day. On that day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act (an act of Compensated emancipation) for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia.[27] The Act freed about 3,100 slaves in the District of Columbia nine months before President Lincoln issued his broader Emancipation Proclamation. The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act represents the only example of compensation by the federal government to former owners of emancipated slaves.[28]

On January 4, 2005, Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed legislation making Emancipation Day an official public holiday in the District.[29] Although Emancipation Day occurs on April 16, by law when April 16 falls during a weekend, Emancipation Day is observed on the nearest weekday.[30] This affects the Internal Revenue Service's due date for tax returns, which traditionally must be submitted by April 15. As the federal government observes the holiday, it causes the federal and all state tax deadlines to be moved to the 18th if Emancipation Day falls on the weekend and to the 17th if Emancipation Day falls on a Monday.[31] Each year, activities will be held during the public holiday including the traditional Emancipation Day parade celebrating the freedom of enslaved persons in the District of Columbia. The Emancipation Day celebration was held yearly from 1866 to 1901.


In Columbus, Mississippi, Emancipation Day is celebrated on May 8, known locally as "Eight o' May". As in other southern states, the local celebration commemorates the date in 1865 when African Americans in eastern Mississippi learned of their freedom.[32]

Though federal law outlawed slavery in the state, Mississippi itself did not ratify the federal constitutional amendment abolishing slavery until February 7, 2013.[33]


In Texas, Emancipation Day is celebrated on June 19. It commemorates the announcement in Texas of the abolition of slavery made on that day in 1865. It is commonly known as Juneteenth. Since the late 20th century, this date has gained recognition beyond Texas, and has been proposed for a national Emancipation Day.


Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 8 in Paducah, McCracken County and Russellville, Logan County Kentucky. According to the Paducah Sun newspaper, this is the anniversary of the day slaves in this region learned of their freedom in 1865.


Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico celebrates Emancipation Day (Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud), an official holiday, on March 22. Slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873 while the island was still a colony of Spain.[34]

United States Virgin Islands

The United States Virgin Islands celebrates Emancipation Day as an official holiday on July 3. It commemorates the Danish Governor Peter von Scholten's 1848 proclamation that "all unfree in the Danish West Indies are from today emancipated," which followed a slave rebellion led by John Gottlieb (General Buddhoe) in Frederiksted, Saint Croix.[35]

See also


  1. "Emancipation". Black Presence: Asian and Black History in Britain 1500-1850. The National Archives.
  2. Hutchinson, Nekaelia (14 April 2014). "Season of Emancipation Launched". Barbados Government Information Service. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  3. Oldfield, J. R. (2007). Chords of Freedom: Commemoration, Ritual and British Transatlantic Slavery By J. R. Manchester University Press. p. 165. ISBN 9780719066658. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  4. Modest, Wayne (2011). "Slavery and the (Symbolic) Politics of Memory in Jamaica". In Smith, Laurajane; et al. (eds.). Representing Enslavement and Abolition in Museums: Ambiguous Engagements. Routledge. p. 79. ISBN 9781136667381. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  5. "How we celebrate Emancipation Day". Emancipation Park, Jamaica. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  6. "Holidays (Public General) Act". Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  7. Wilson, Amber (2004). Jamaica: The Culture. Crabtree Publishing. ISBN 9780778793328.
  8. "The History of Emancipation Day". Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  9. "The Development of Emancipation Park". Emancipation Park Jamaica. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  10. "Emancipation Day". National Library and Information System Authority, Trinidad and Tobago. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  11. Sookraj, Radhica (2011). "Moruga residents celebrate Emancipation, Discovery day". Trinidad and Tobago Guardian. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  12. Schramm, Katharina (2016). African Homecoming: Pan-African Ideology and Contested Heritage. Routledge. p. 150. ISBN 9781315435404.
  13. "Trinidad and Tobago Emancipation Day." Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, edited by Helene Henderson, Omnigraphics, Inc., 5th edition, 2015. Credo Reference, http://cordproxy.mnpals.net/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/hfcwd/trinidad_and_tobago_emancipation_day/0?institutionId=4015. Accessed 15 Jan 2018.
  14. Winer, Lisa (2009). Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago: On Historical Principles. McGill-Queen. p. 327. ISBN 9780773576070.
  15. "Bermuda's Public Holidays in 2016, 2017 and 2018".
  16. "Emancipation Days in Martinique and Guadeloupe", Repeating Islands.
  17. Elisa Bordin and Anna Scacchi (eds), Transatlantic Memories of Slavery: Remembering the Past, Changing the Future, Cambria Press, 2015, p. 107.
  18. "St. Martin/St. Maarten Events, Calendar", FrenchCaribbean.com.
  19. "Upper Canadian Act of 1793 Against Slavery National Historic Event". Parks Canada. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  20. "Law Document English View". Ontario.ca.
  21. Anonymous (2011-03-31). "History of Slavery and early colonisation in SA timeline 1602-1841". www.sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  22. "1838 vs 2015 pound value – Economic Cost". MeasuringWorth.com. Measuring Worth. 1 December 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-05-08. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  23. Pather, Ra'eesa. "Slaves: South Africa's first freedom fighters". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  24. "Knott House Museum Exhibits & Programs". Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  25. "Knott House Museum". Archived from the original on 2007-05-27. Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  26. "Emancipation Proclamation Celebration - Thomaston, Georgia". Archived from the original on 2017-02-15. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  27. Chap. LIV. 12 Stat. 376 from "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875". Library of Congress, Law Library of Congress. Retrieved Oct. 19, 2009.
  28. DC Celebrates Emancipation, Government of the District of Columbia
  29. "District of Columbia Emancipation Day Amendment Act of 2004" (PDF).
  30. DC Department of Human Resources from "Holiday Schedule (2011 Holiday Schedule)"
  31. Staff report (12 April 2016). "The real reason why tax day was moved to April 18". Tribune Media. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  32. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/05/emancipation-day-commemoration-from-columbus-mississippi/361971/
  33. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/02/mississippi-officially-abolishes-slavery-ratifies-13th-amendment/
  34. "Abolition of Slavery in Puerto Rico". World of 1898. Library of Congress. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  35. "The slave rebellion on St. Croix and Emancipation". Rigsarkivet. Retrieved 2018-08-12.
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