Tag Archives: Paducah

Emancip-eight!

Historical marker for Paducah’s Eighth of August celebration

Paducah, Kentucky’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration is a days-long, event-filled dive into the city’s African-American heritage.  Since at least 1886, the community has been the site of an annual grand gathering to commemorate the end of slavery.  The relation of August 8 to emancipation is a little uncertain, but the most popular theory is that it harkens back to the day in the 1790s when the enslaved people of Santo Domingo (Haiti) were declared to be free. 

In 2008, field workers with the Kentucky Folklife Program visited Paducah to gather information about the current celebration.  They took photographs and video and collected material, including a thick program highlighting that year’s theme “A Journey By Faith.”  Along with sponsors’ ads and event schedules, the program features memorials, announcements, and autobiographies of African-American Paducahns that chronicle their lives, achievements, and spiritual journeys.  Included for that election year of 2008 was a scholarship-winning essay by a local high school senior on the topic “Is America Ready for an African-American President?”

The field workers also conducted an interview with James Dawson, a Hopkinsville native who had made his home in Paducah since 1951.  He recalled hearing his grandfather talk about the celebration, which drew African Americans from all over the country.  Dawson’s own memories included dances, bands, street parties, class and family reunions, and all-night merriment.  He and his son helped to serve up a food staple—barbeque (Dawson’s favorite was pork or mutton)—together with fried fish and hamburgers.  Unlike the old days, Dawson observed, the event had become less spontaneous, bringing in commercial food vendors and requiring committees, permits, insurance, security and all the accoutrements of modern civic existence.  Nevertheless, the 2008 gathering was another successful chapter in a tradition that retains its unique place in Paducah.

This project focusing on Paducah’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration of 2008 is part of the Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid. For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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8th of August Emancipation Celebration

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln placed pen to paper and wrote the following executive order,

The first page of the Emancipation Proclamation. Handwritten document.
The Emancipation Proclamation
(Courtesy of the National Archives)

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

As an authoritative wartime measure, the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans who remained under control by the Confederate government in ten southern states—not including the “border states” and those already under Union occupation.

While the proclamation, which was contingent upon a Union victory, may have ignited a firestorm of criticism from white southern sympathizers and praise from anti-abolitionists, its implementation was slow to take root, especially in Texas.

Seceding from the United States on February 1, 1861, Texas became the fourth state admitted into the Confederacy. Throughout the course of the Civil War, slaveholders from eastern states, notably Arkansas and Louisiana, routinely brought slaves to Texas in order to avoid emancipation, which significantly increased the number of slaves across the state. When the Emancipation Proclamation was made official in 1863, however, it took nearly two and a half years before the order was enforced. While theories abound in order to explain this severe lag—ranging from murder to deliberate miscommunication—history itself is quite clear.

On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger and his troops landed on the beaches of Galveston Island and declared Texas under federal occupation. Granger read Lincoln’s executive order, thereby liberating the nearly 250,000 slaves living in Texas. “Juneteenth,” then, has come to be recognized as the “traditional end of slavery in Texas.” The day has become established as a state-recognized holiday, while other states may observe Juneteenth in other forms of ceremonial remembrance. The underpinnings of Juneteenth rest on the celebration of Black pride, solidarity, and cultural heritage.

Akin to Juneteenth festivities, the 8th of August is another emancipation-related holiday observed by African American communities in both western Kentucky and Tennessee. While the reasons for celebrating August 8th remain unclear, the lasting impact it has had on the region is decidedly obvious. Every year, the city of Paducah, Kentucky hosts its 8th of August Homecoming Emancipation Celebration. The Homecoming seeks to honor exceptional members of the African American community, both past and present, through memorial services, picnics, music performances, and church assemblies.

Program booklet for the 2008 8th of August Emancipation celebration
Program booklet for the 2008 8th of August Emancipation Celebration

WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives contains a collection (FA 635) of materials gathered together from Paducah’s 2008 8th of August Homecoming Emancipation Celebration titled “A Journey by Faith.” In his program introduction, Robert Coleman, President of the W.C. Young Community Center Board of Directors, writes,

“America’s struggle, rise, and triumph from slavery to equal rights for all is a living testament to the power of deep, personal faith for Americans of all colors. That deep well of faith from the darkest days of slavery sets the African American experience of religion apart.”

The program itself includes articles describing the accomplishments of distinguished members of the Black community, advertisements for local businesses and churches, and a schedule of the weekend’s events. The collection also contains photographs of the celebration, vendor information, business cards, and two interviews with James Dawson, a member of the First Liberty Missionary Baptist Church, that were recorded on digital videocassette tapes.

For more information on African American folklore, material culture, foodways, and achievements throughout the state of Kentucky and beyond, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs, and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections! Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Bits and Pieces

In addition to the many print and microfilm resources in the WKU libraries’ Special Collections, we have DVD and tape visual resources. A recent find in our collection is a 3 minute 8mm black and white film that showcases former President Harry Truman’s visit to Paducah, Kentucky on October 24th, 1959. Truman’s Vice President, Alben Barkley was from Paducah and served as the 35th Vice President of the United States (1949–1953), under Truman. Barkley spent much of his life in Paducah, and has a lake, an airport and other landmarks named after him in the area. The film shows Truman going to a coffee shop, meeting with Paducah citizens and officials and speaking at a banquet during a fund raising dinner. We have converted the film to DVD and so it is available for inhouse viewing.

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