The annual remembrance celebration for African-Americans gaining their freedom from slavery has a much longer and more storied history than just those 25 years though.
The event, which is more commonly called simply “the 8th of August” has been celebrated throughout western Kentucky for over 140 years.
“We don’t really know where the date of the 8th of August came from,” local historian Michael Morrow said. “That’s just when it’s always been. I can remember when I was a kid, it was always celebrated on the eighth. Black people would not go to work on the eighth, but now we do it the first weekend in August.”
The theme for this year’s celebration will be “Emancipation Celebration – Wow!”
The opening ceremony will be held in a gospel service depicting the ritual of “meeting at the church” at 7 p.m. Thursday. The meeting will be hosted by Mt. Zion Baptist Church on South Morgan Street where Rev. Fred D. Fort is the pastor.
This ceremony will begin with a spiritual message brought outside the church on the block by guest speaker Rev. Reggie Collier, associate minister of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Rev. Devin West and the Logan County Community Choir (LC3) will conduct the song service.
Churches from the community are invited to make their recense felt by setting up a tent to communicate with the public by selling concessions or handing out free items.
Friday’s festivities will start with the Soul Food Fest on Fifth and Morgan streets and the Russellville Blues society will be sponsoring another of its concert series at 7 p.m.
Saturday morning, tournament games begin at Hampton Park at 8 a.m. The opening ceremony will be at 10 a.m. This year’s tournaments include men’s open softball, men’s dustbowl basketball and corn hole. There will also be a golf scramble at 8 a.m. at Rolling Hills Golf Course.
The Black Widow Band will have a free concert in the park opposite the basketball court starting at 5 p.m. Bring your lounge chairs and enjoy three hours of variety music.
The first 8th of August celebration took place in 1866 in Allensville – just across the county line in Todd County.
The early celebrations featured some of the top black political speakers of the day – contemporaries of the great Booker T. Washington – as well as marches by veterans of the U.S.C.T. – the United States Colored Troops, soldiers who served in all-black units during the Civil War.
The 8th of August is mainly a regional celebration, observed mostly parts of southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee.
Other places have emancipation celebrations on other days. In Texas, for example, it is celebrated on June 10 – which was the day that members of the U.S.C.T. sailed to that state to end slavery there.
Morrow said he believes the 8th of August may have its roots from that date, because many of those soldiers were from this area and may have helped get their own celebration started when they returned home.
Morrow said he has found documentation that blacks in Russellville did not find out they were free until Dec. 25 1865.
For many years, the biggest celebration was in Allensville – the site of the first area 8th of August celebration in 1866 – but it was moved to Russellville in the 1980s because of the lack of ball fields and restroom facilities in the small Todd County community.
“This is one of the biggest in this area, with the exception of the one in Paducah,” Morrow said.