Black/African American Holidays
January is Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month begun by President Barack Obama. On December 28th 2016, he called upon businesses, national & community organizations, families, and all Americans to recognize the vital role they must play in ending all forms of slavery, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.
January 1 is the Emancipation Proclamation anniversary. On this date in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed this document proclaiming that all slaves living within rebelling Confederate states “are, and henceforth shall be, free.”
January 5 is George Washington Carver Day. Dr. Carver was awarded the Roosevelt Medal in 1939 for saving Southern agriculture, which was later instrumental in feeding the United States during World War II). For this reason, Dr. Carver’s hometown was made a historic site upon his death on Jan. 5, 1943. During the 79th Congress, Public Law 290 was passed to designate January 5th of each year as George Washington Carver Recognition Day.
January 16 (Third Monday in January) is Martin Luther King Day, commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., the recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and an activist for nonviolent social change until his assassination in 1968.
February is Black History Month in the United States and Canada. Since 1976, the month has been designated to remember the contributions of people of the African Diaspora. Historian Carter G. Woodson launched the holiday because contributions that African Americans have made to U.S. culture and society are largely omitted from and overlooked in history books.
February 4 is Rosa Parks Day, is an American holiday in honor of the civil rights leader. In California and Missouri, Rosa Parks Day is celebrated on her birthday, February 4. In Ohio and Oregon, it’s celebrated on the day she was arrested, December 1.
February 14 is Frederick Douglass Day. The day marks the birthday of Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey). He was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.
March 5 is Crispus Attucks Day, or Boston Massacre Day. It has been observed since 1771, mainly in Boston, Massachusetts. Since 1949, Crispus Attucks Day has also been a legal day of observance in the state of New Jersey. Crispus Attucks was the first Black American to die during the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, a key event leading up to the Revolutionary War. For this reason, he is considered the first American fatality of the War.
March 10 is Harriet Tubman Day, an American holiday in honor of the anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross), observed nationally, in the State of New York, and locally around the State of Maryland. Despite great hardship and great danger, Ms. Tubman undertook 19 trips as a conductor to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom. She later became an eloquent and effective speaker on behalf of the movement to abolish slavery, also serving the Civil War as a soldier, spy, and nurse, among other roles.
March 16 marks publication of the First Black Newspaper in America. In 1827, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm debuted “Freedom’s Journal,” the first African-American-owned and operated newspaper published in the U.S. All 103 issues have been digitized and are available at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website.
April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day, a traditional event which occurs annually in Major League Baseball, commemorating and honoring the day Jackie Robinson made his major league debut. April 15 was Opening Day in 1947, Robinson’s first season in the Major Leagues. Initiated for the first time on April 15, 2004, Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated each year on that day.
April 16 is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington DC to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which president Abraham Lincoln signed on April 16, 1862. It freed more than 3000 slaves in the District of Columbia.
May 17 is the Anniversary of the School Desegregation Ruling. In 1954, racial segregation in public schools was unanimously ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, found to violate the 14th Amendment clause guaranteeing equal protection under the law.
May 19 is Malcolm X Day, an American holiday in honor of civil rights leader Malcolm X, celebrated either on his birthday or the 3rd Sunday of May. The commemoration was proposed as an official state holiday in the State of Illinois in 2015. As of present, only the city of Berkeley, California observes the holiday with city offices and schools closed.
May 25 is African Liberation Day. Also known as African Freedom Day, it is a day to “mark, each year, the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolize the determination of the People of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.”
June is African American Music Appreciation Month. It began in 1979 when Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams developed the idea to set aside a month dedicated to celebrating the impact of Black music. In 2009, President Barack Obama declared the start of summer as a celebration for all the Black “musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters [who] have made enormous contributions to our culture.” On May 31, 2016, President Obama officially declared the month of June as African American Music Appreciation Month.
June 12 is Loving Day, which commemorates the date in 1967 that an interracial couple got the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down anti-miscegenation laws in the country. Today, blacks, whites and others celebrate June 12 as Loving Day throughout the nation.
Second Sunday in June (June 12) is the “Odunde Festival” (African New Year). This one-day festival is mostly a street market catered to African-American interests and the African diaspora derived from the tradition of the Yoruba people of Nigeria in celebration of the new year. It’s centered at the intersection of Grays Ferry Avenue and South Street in Philadelphia, PA. The Odunde festival started in Philly in 1975, established by Lois Fernandez with just $100 in neighborhood donations. Now, this celebration is the largest African celebration on the east coast of the U.S.
June 19 is Juneteenth, (AKA “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day”), and is observed as a public holiday in 14 U.S. states. This celebration honors the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas and Louisiana finally heard that they were free, two full months after the end of the Civil War. June 19, therefore, became the day of emancipation for thousands of Black U.S. citizens. While most slaves received their freedom after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Texas had to wait more than 2.5 years later to receive their freedom — on June 19, 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston ordering that slavery end in the “Lone Star State.” Ever since, African Americans have celebrated that date as “Juneteenth Independence Day.” Juneteenth is an official State Holiday in Texas.
July 19 is the Maafa commemoration. This commemoration provides an opportunity for members of the African-descended community to remember the millions of Africans — men, women, and children — who were sold, kidnapped, shipped and who died along the route from Africa to the Americas.
July 18 is Nelson Mandela International Day in recognition of Mandela’s birthday on July 18, 2009, launched via unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly. It was inspired by a call Nelson Mandela made a year earlier for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices by saying, “It is in your hands now.” This day is more than a celebration of Madiba’s life, work, and legacy; it’s a global movement to take action to change the world for the better.
July 23 is Birthday of Haile Selassie (Rastafari), former Emperor of Ethiopia who Rastas considered to be God and their Savior, who would return to Africa the members of the black community living in exile. The Rastafari movement surfaced in Jamaica among peasant and working-class Black people and was propagated through the Rastas’ interest in reggae music, most notably that of Bob Marley, the Jamaican-born singer and songwriter.
August 13 is the date in 1920 that the red, black, and green Pan-African flag was formally adopted by The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in Article 39 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.
August 17 is Marcus Garvey Day, which celebrates the birthday of the Jamaican politician and activist who is revered by Rastafarians. Garvey is credited with starting the Back to Africa movement, which encouraged those of African descent to return to the land of their ancestors during and after slavery in North America.
September 11 (or the 12th during a Leap Year) is Enkutatash, or the Ethiopian New Year. Rastafarians celebrate the New Year on this date and believe that Ethiopia is their spiritual home, a place they desire to return to. Enkutatash means “gift of jewels” in Amharic. The celebration is both religious and secular with the day beginning with church services, followed by the family meal. Young children receive small gifts of money or bread after the girls gather flowers and sing, and boys paint pictures of saints. Families visit friends, and adults drink Ethiopian beer.
September 25 is when School Desegregation Came to Little Rock, AR. In 1957, nine teenagers became the first African-Americans to attend the all white Central High School in Arkansas, putting a national spotlight on racism. Former President Eisenhower sent federal troops to protect the students and ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.
October 1 is Jerry Rescue Day. This observance celebrates the rescue of William Jerry Henry. Known as “Jerry,” Henry was a fugitive slave who was captured in Syracuse, New York, but freed from jail on October 1, 1851, with the help of abolitionists. Originally a protest against the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, the “Jerry Rescue” was commemorated on that day each year from 1852 to 1859, and on occasion after that time.
October 2 marks the date Thurgood Marshall was sworn into the Supreme Court. In 1967, Judge Marshall became the first African American to sit on the highest court in the land. Opposing discrimination and the death penalty, he championed free speech and civil liberties.
October 3 marks the date Frank Robinson was signed as Major League Manager. In 1974, hired by the Cleveland Indians, he became the first African American to manage a major league baseball team.
October 17 is Black Poetry Day, observed annually. This is a day to honor past and present black poets. Jupiter Hammon, the first published black poet in the United States, was born in Long Island, New York, on October 17, 1711. In honor of Hammon’s birth, we celebrate the contributions of all African Americans to the world of poetry.
Fourth Sunday in November (Nov. 26, 2017) is Umoja Karamu Celebration, created in 1971 by Edward Simms Jr. to inject new meaning and solidarity into the Black family through ceremony and symbol. Umoja Karamu means “unity feast” in Swahili, and is based around five colors and their meanings, which represent five historical periods in African-American history. Black represents Black families before slavery, White symbolizes the scattering of Black families during slavery, Red denotes the liberation from slavery, Green signifies the struggle for civil equality and Gold implies hope for the future.
December 1 is Rosa Parks Day, is an American holiday in honor of the civil rights leader. In Ohio and Oregon, Rosa Parks Day is celebrated on the day she was arrested, December 1. In California and Missouri, it is celebrated on her birthday, February 4.
December 26-January 1 is Kwanzaa, a holiday established in 1996 by Maulana Karenga as a time for African Americans to “discover and bring forth the best of our culture, both ancient and current, and use it as a foundation to bring into being models of human excellence and possibilities to enrich and expand our lives.”
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