ABOUT THE EIGHTH OF AUGUST
Andrew Johnson, Tennessee Military Governor, who would later become the 17th president of the United States, freed his personal slaves in Greeneville, Tennessee on August 8, 1863.
This date, August 8, became known as Emancipation Day. The first recorded celebration of the Eighth of August as Emancipation Day was in Greeneville, Tennessee in 1871. The best explanation of the origins of the celebration can be found in an August 8, 1921 article in the Knoxville Journal and Tribune. “Today will be observed as a holiday by the negro residents and practically all places of business conducted by negroes will be closed for part of the day at least, according to promoters of the exercises. Local speakers will address the audiences. In most states January 1 is observed as Emancipation Day, but in Tennessee and a few other states, August 8 has been designated as the date for Emancipation Day exercises. This custom originated because negroes owned by Andrew Johnson, at Greeneville, were set free on August 8, and Sam Johnson, one of the former slaves of Andrew Johnson, worked for a long time and was successful in having August 8 set aside for Emancipation Day observed in this section.”
Eventually the Eighth of August was celebrated in at least seven states and 55 communities. It is still celebrated in Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. Three of the people freed on the Eighth of August are laid to rest in the Freedmen’s Mission Historic Cemetery that is adjacent to Knoxville College.
In 1937, the Knoxville Flashlight-Herald, an African American weekly, sponsored the “Bronze Mayor Contest” in an effort to provide the local African American community “elected” leadership. The poll favored Dr. James H. Presnell and he became the “Bronze Mayor” and the “official” spokesman for Knoxville’s African American population. July 22, 1939, Mayor Presnell signed a proclamation urging all employers in the City to release as many colored citizens as is practicable, in order that they may participate in the activities and the celebration on Tuesday, August 8, 1939 in Chilhowee Park.
During this period of legal segregation in Knoxville, Chilhowee Park was only open to African Americans one day a year, August 8, and this continued until 1948.
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January 2, 2020
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