Emancipation Day

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Emancipation Day is celebrated in many former British colonies in the Caribbean and areas of the United States on various dates in observance of the emancipation of slaves of African descent. It is also observed in other areas in regard to the abolition of serfdom or other forms of servitude.


The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 28, 1834. Emancipation Day is widely observed in the British West Indies during the first week of August. In many Caribbean countries the Emancipation Day celebration is a part of Carnival, as the Caribbean Carnival takes place at this time. (But, Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago takes place in February or March according to the movable feast of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, not near August[1]).

August 1, 1834

  • Barbados: Emancipation Day in Barbados is part of the annual "Season of Emancipation," which runs from April 14 to August 23. The Season includes the anniversary of the Slave Rebellion led by the Right Excellent Bussa, national hero, in 1816; National Heroes Day on April 28; the Crop Over Festival, the Day of National Significance on July 26 (in commemoration of the social unrest of 1937), and International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on August 23. 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, apart from a concert, there is also 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.
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica: Emancipation day is part of a week long cultural celebration in Jamaica. During this time Jamaicans also commemorate both their Independence day (August 6th, 1962) with festivals, parades, galas, et al.
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • St. Lucia
  • Saint Andres Island, Providence and Saint Cathleena: Have started celebrating this in the 21st century.

Thursday before the first Monday in August

  • Bermuda celebrates its Emancipation day on this date, placing it in either July or August.[2]

First Monday in August

Some countries observe the holiday as "August Monday".

  • Antigua celebrates carnival on and around 1st 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.


Puerto Rico celebrates Emancipation Day, an official holiday, on March 22.


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 abolish slavery 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 led to the abolition of slavery in Upper Canada by 1810. 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"[3]

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

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

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.[4] This was the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Florida.[5]

District of Columbia

The District of Columbia celebrates April 16 as Emancipation Day. On that day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia.[6] The Act freed about 3,100 enslaved persons 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.[7]

On January 4, 2005, Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed legislation making Emancipation Day an official public holiday in the District. Although Emancipation Day occurs on April 16, by law when April 16 falls during a weekend, Emancipation Day is observed on the nearest weekday.[8] 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. The city council voted to resume it as a tradition and historic celebration in 2002[7]


In Columbus, Mississippi, Emancipation Day is celebrated on May 8, known locally as "Eighth 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.


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 and McCracken 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.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The United States Virgin Islands celebrates Emancipation Day as an official holiday on July 3. It commemorates the abolition of slavery by Danish Governor Peter von Scholten on July 3, 1848.

See also


  1. Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
  2. http://www.bermuda-online.org/pubhols.htm
  3. http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_08e25_e.htm
  4. "Knott House Museum Exhibits & Programs". Retrieved 2007-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Knott House Museum". Retrieved 2007-05-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 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.
  7. 7.0 7.1 DC Celebrates Emancipation, Government of the District of Columbia
  8. DC Department of Human Resources from "Holiday Schedule (2011 Holiday Schedule)"