‘Eighth of August,’ also called ‘Emancipation Day’ in Tennessee, commemorates a new birth of freedom in the state.
Slavery officially ended in Tennessee when voters ratified an amendment to the state’s constitution on February 22, 1865, about a month after Congress passed the 13thAmendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.
While the origins of the date are a mixture of folklore and fact, it was on this day in 1863 that Andrew Johnson freed his slaves, personally initiating a move many enslaved Tennesseans had already chosen with their feet. As the Union Army conquered the majority of the state in 1862, it was seen by enslaved people as an army of liberation, offering freedom and liberty from their bondage. But it was in the years after the Civil War, when African American communities across Tennessee and parts of Kentucky celebrated their hard won liberty, that the Eighth of August gained its significance.
In 2007 former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen signed House Bill No. 207 acknowledging August 8 as ‘Emancipation Day.’
“Recent legislation has also contributed to the date’s significance. More recently, Tennessee state Rep. Rick Staples proposed a bill to have Emancipation Day designated as a legal state holiday, wrote Stephanie Davis. Davis is the Community Engagement Educator for the Tennessee State Museum.
“On March 2, 2020, the bill passed the House unanimously. It is awaiting further action in the Senate. Last year on August 8, Gov. Bill Lee proclaimed the date as Emancipation Day. Gov. Lee said that Johnson’s act of freeing his slaves sparked ‘celebrations of freedom that continue to this day throughout Tennessee.’
The Eighth of August is a holiday for Black Tennesseans, a day of jubilee with picnics, speeches, games, and dances.