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Emancipation Day in Greene, 1864

     “The celebration of the colored people in this village…considerably exceeded the expectations of the public.  In addition to an unexpected large number of colored persons from abroad, there was a large turn-out of white people, curious to hear what the black man had to say….”  This was the observation on September 1, 1864 in Greene’s Chenango American regarding the Emancipation Day celebration a week earlier on the 25th of August.  Before the Civil War began in 1861, New Yorkers often celebrated the NYS Legislature’s abolition of enslavement in 1827 as well as Britain’s ending of slavery in its colonies in 1833 and these events were somewhat replaced by new celebrations which included the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C., and the bravery of the 54th Massachusetts regiment.  As the War approached its ending, a new name, Emancipation Day, was developed which incorporated these earlier events as desired.

      Unfortunately, unlike similar celebrations, no organizers for Greene’s emancipation observance were named in the region’s press.  The Oxford Times on August 24 provided a one sentence discussion on this issue, saying that “extensive preparations are being made by the committee for the occasion….”  There is only speculation on why the County’s well known veteran and activist from Norwich, Hannibal C. Molson, did not help plan, or even attend, this emancipation celebration.  However, the committee invited four dignitaries to take part in the day’s events—Rev. J. W. Loguen, Frederick Douglass, Thomas Randall who also lived in the County, and “Wright” who has not been identified for this article.

     Before at least 1000 people at eleven A. M., an unnamed glee club opened the day’s exercises. Upon its last rendition, Randall, who would become the Editor of the Sherburne News in a few years, walked to the podium and read the Emancipation Proclamation.  Expectations were rising in anticipation of the next two orators.

     Rev. Loguen was known widely as a leader of the Underground Railroad in central New York.  For much of the 1860’s, the Reverend was pastor of the A.M.E. Zion Church in Binghamton, although on occasion he would preach at nearby Zion churches and chapels.  In addition, the September 1 edition of the Chenango American did not overly praise his delivery on the rights of blacks, noting that it was “quite eloquent and forcible….”   It also revealed a degree of prejudice when it asserted that his delivery was “slightly smacking of the peculiarities of the negro” which was not explained. 

     A week before Greene’s Emancipation Day, the Chenango American singled out one of the speakers, Frederick Douglass, for special attention.  On August 18, it opined that “a natural curiosity to hear a man so much talked of, and with such a reputation for eloquence, will be likely of itself to attract a crowd,” and this is exactly what happened.   The September 1st issue of the newspaper did not identify any theme or idea related to emancipation in FD’s two hour address.  But it did suggest that “he has a way of [stating] his case which seems incontrovertible, and his arguments are at once statesmanlike and comprehensive.  He was listened to with profound attention….” He returned to deliver a lecture in Oxford in a few months.

      The day-long celebration concluded with a grand ball which prompted the following evaluation and judgment in the American on September 1—“we apprehend [sic]that this celebration has done much to soften the prejudices against these people,” although suffrage for black men in NYS would be established by the adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870, and 1873 the  passage of New York’s widely disobeyed Civil Rights legislation.   The critical race theory of the era prevented much of a softening of prejudices against “these people.”

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