Historical Marker #1957 in Paducah commemorates the eighth day of August. African Americans in Paducah have traditionally observed this day in celebration of their ancestors' emancipation from slavery.
Even before the guns fell silent at the end of the Civil War, freedmen and freedwomen began to set annual days of celebration to remember their deliverance from bondage. Most often these celebrations featured a speech by a notable personality from the community. They usually also included a large pitch-in dinner and a parade through the streets of the village, town, or city. In addition, other activities frequently included a public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, play performances about slavery and emancipation by African American school children and black fraternal organizations, and baseball games. When weather proved inclement, churches provided buildings and tents for meeting spaces.
These yearly occasions fell on different days of the calendar for several reasons. Most often, emancipation day celebrations fell on January 1. This day was popular because Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on that day in 1863. Some communities instead chose to celebrate on September 22, the date when the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1862. Other communities chose to honor April 9, the day in 1865 when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Still others selected a day in December (when the 13th Amendment took effect), or the various days when the Union army occupied their town or county. In Texas, the most popular day was June 19, also known as Juneteenth. On that day in 1865, slaves in Texas heard that the war was over and they were free.
Paducah's chosen emancipation day is somewhat unique. According to the August 8, 1905, edition of the "Paducah Daily News-Democrat," that day was chosen because it was when slaves in Santo Domingo (Haiti) earned their freedom. Haiti was the first black republic established in the Western Hemisphere after a slave uprising that began in 1791.
The "Paducah Daily News-Democrat" also explained that that city's "Emancipation Day is heralded far and wide as the greatest event of the year for the colored race, and it attracts [N]egroes from hundreds of miles away." Trains ran extra cars to transport passengers from towns such as Hopkinsville and Henderson. African Americans from Cairo, Illinois, Evansville, Indiana, and Martin, Jackson, and Memphis, Tennessee, also attended the festivities.
Today, Paducah still celebrates the eighth of August. A traditional parade along with other activities such as a golf tournament, fashion show, and family reunions are often featured.