The End of the Celebrations

The January 1 commemorations of the abolition of the slave trade continued for some years. In 1809, reflecting dissension between groups, three separate celebrations were held in New York City. Henry Sipkins was the keynote orator at the African Church. Like Peter Williams Jr. the year before, he described the impact of the slave trade on Africa and the brutal life of enslaved Africans in America, and then thanked the abolitionists.

Another commemoration was held at the Universalist Church, with speeches by William Hamilton, a carpenter and co-founder of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, and Peter Williams Jr. Following Williams's speech of the previous year, Hamilton strongly denounced Europeans' plunder of Africa: "The country of our forefathers might truly be called paradise, or the seat of ease and pleasure, until the foul fiends entered - fiends did I say? yes, the name is too sacred an appellation for the base ravagers of the African coast." As president of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, established just a few months earlier, he explained its goals and ended his oration by thanking the abolitionists.

The third celebration was organized at Liberty Hall by the Wilberforce Philanthropic Association. It was preceded by two processions complete with marching bands. Leaving aside the international slave trade, the main speaker, Joseph Sidney, focused on the abolition of slavery, which he believed had to be gradual because "our brethren in the South are in a state of deplorable ignorance."

In New York, the commemorations stopped in 1815, but in Boston, they lasted until 1830. Each year, two to three hundred black Bostonians had marched in procession, valiantly braving furious white mobs that harassed, insulted, and made fun of them. But not everyone in the black community was in favor of these rallies. Some leaders, such as Absalom Jones, were opposed to what they saw as useless confrontations.

Hostile whites not only ridiculed African Americans on the streets as they marched but also cruelly caricatured their dress, language, and manners in a series of "Bobalition" broadsides, published in Boston between 1819 and 1832 and reprised by newspapers in other cities. On July 14, 1821, a poster titled "Grand Bobalition or Great Annibersary Fussible" was displayed all over town. Written in exaggerated, pompous "black dialect," it started with "Bosson, Uly 18021." In 1819, for the first and only time, an anonymous "Reply to Bobalition" surfaced. It criticized white Bostonians' hostility to the celebration.

The demise of the January 1 celebrations was not exceptional. Other African-American commemorations came and went: Emancipation Day, celebrated between 1827 and 1834 on July 4 in New York City and July 5 in New York State; West Indies Emancipation Day, held on August 1 in thirteen states between 1834 and 1862; and U.S. Emancipation Day, marking Lincoln's Proclamation on January 1, 1863, held until the 1920s.