Emancipation Celebration in Charles Town, West Virginia, 1869

Celebrating Emancipation in Charles Town, Spirit of Jefferson (Charles Town, WV), October 26, 1869

The Colored Celebration- Last Thursday was a gala day with our unbleached American citizens, and they enjoyed it hugely; but in a manner creditable to them, and in a style which would have reflected no discredit upon any community. What it was they sought to celebrate, we do not know, as we are by no means familiar with their anniversaries or associations. We do know this, however, that they had a procession which was imposing, and that they had banners and devices in procession, some of which were appropriate and some otherwise. It seems that there exists in our midst a society of the colored people known as the “Order of Industry,” and it was the members of this society, arrayed, in appropriate regalia, and the two Sabbath Schools of the town, that made up the procession – To the first, there was a banner presented by the “colored ladies” of the town, in front of the old Court-House. Upon this banner was the significant motto, “By industry we thrive.” The presentation was by Miss Houk, and the reception by Jasper Thompson, both of whom acquitted themselves very well. After these exercises, the procession moved to Herbert’s Woods, headed by Moxley’s Brass Band from Hagerstown. The inclemency of the day prevented us from being present at the Grove, but we learn that after a collation, very sensible speeches were made by W. W. Grimes and Rev. Dungey. On their return, the procession moved through the principal streets of the town, and finally brought up in front of the Court-House, where other addresses were made by orators selected for the occasion. – The first speech we did not hear, but understand it was a strong mixture of nothing, showing more the ignorance of the author than anything else. The second speech was delivered by a young man named Beverly, formerly the property of Col. John J. Grantham. He has some shrewdness, and no little ambition—appears anxious to improve and celebrate himself above the ordinary level, and will no doubt succeed. An address from Rev. Dungey closed the speaking exercises, and we were sorry when his speech terminated. In matter and in manner, it was an admirable effort, and showed the man of heart as well as of brain. He commenced by saying that he was a Virginian, of which he felt proud; that he loved Virginia, her soil, her climate, her hills and her vales, but more than all these he loved her people—and closed his brief address with an exhortation to his hearers to demean themselves as men, so as to give offence to none, and to retire quietly and unobtrusively after the procession was dismissed to their homes carrying with them the recollections of the day, and the circumstances surrounding.

At the close of his speech, the band struck up a quick march, and the procession moved off briskly, to the Methodist Church, where ranks were broken and the day’s proceedings ended. To their credit, be it said, that not a single disturbance occurred, and the whole affair was conducted with the most commendable decorum.

Since writing the above, we have been furnished with the following, as a copy of W. W. Grimes’ remarks at the grove:

Ladies and Gentlemen: --

We are here to-day to celebrate the glorious event of the emancipation of the colored man; but what does that word emancipation signify? Freedom! you will all reply. But freedom from what? Not from honorable, dignifying labor, which sets a man above want and enables him to take his place among his fellow man as an honest, industrious citizen! Not freedom from obeying the salutary laws of the land, which forbid drunkenness, rioting, and behavior unbecoming a respectable, law abiding citizen! No, my friends, not freedom from these, for in that case we would be in a bondage far more galling and disagreeable, than when we served in the cotton or tobacco fields or on the sugar plantations. We are free from slavery, free to call ourselves and no one else, master--but that fact ought to make us ambitious to be worthy of this blessed [illegible]. We should strive, by patient industry and good conduct, to win the respect of every one. My friends, I need not tell you that we are here to day, surrounded by circumstances quite different from what we were in slavery, when we were oppressed by its galling chains. Now we are free and happy, and what we earn is our own, and we are now equal before the law. Oh! may we never forget that we owe all these to a kind and merciful Benefactor, and to the genius of a free government, and to our free schools, that are now over the land. My friends, we are much respected by the white population, and under these circumstances we must respect ourselves.

The white population do not expect us to carry out this procession as they would, knowing that they have had more opportunities than we have; but we hope to do better hereafter than we have done heretofore. You know our capital is small, and unless we be industrious we cannot progress. We should be very cautious and obedient to the white race of people, from whose hands we have received support, and always attend to our own business, and not meddle with others. We know there has been a tremendous change. Persons who once deeply studied our interests have not now the interest in us, so we have now to rely on ourselves for support. – God has given us strength and means to support ourselves, and let us use them perfectly.

As this is my first attempt to address a congregation, I will not say any more, for fear I might speak something I could not comprehend—probably I would not take notice of it myself, but some one standing around would. I tender you my sincere thanks, for waiting on me on this occasion.