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Old 05-08-2018, 09:07 PM
Location: Tupelo, Ms
988 posts, read 608,474 times
Reputation: 610


In the Columbus area, the "Eight O'May" has long been called "Emancipation Day." It is the day which tradition says the slaves in the Columbus area learned they were free.

Especially in the late 1800s and early 1900s the black community held a large celebration with parades, speeches and various forms of entertainment. The day was a recognized holiday for the black community ranging from industrial workers to farm laborers to cooks. Because all of the cooks and maids who worked for ladies of St Paul's Episcopal Church had the day off, the church started its Eight of May luncheon which included both lunch and dinner at a cost of only 50 cents in 1908.

There would be parades, speeches, picnics, singing, ballgames and religious ceremonies at churches, schools and city parks. Parades, often led by the Union Band, would assemble at Union Academy or a church and march to the place of celebration. At other times the city's trolley line would provide transportation. A typical example was the Eight of May celebration one hundred years ago, as described in the Columbus Commercial on May 9, 1918:

"Representatives of the different colored churches, schools and benevolent societies assembled at Lake Park yesterday afternoon, when the following program was given: Song "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow"; Prayer, Rev I.M. Mission; Song 'My Country Tis of Thee,' Introductory remarks, Emancipation Address by Rev. E.L. Hollis; Short address, Mrs. L.A. Williams, Rev. E.R. Miller and Prof. T.P. Harris; Closing Prayer, Rev. E.J. Echols."

The 1918 celebration also included a parade, a ball game and other outdoor amusements at Lake Park. The park is now a part of Propst Park and in 1918 the Columbus Trolley line provided transportation to the park from downtown and from Military Road. The trolleys ran down the middle of Main Street and the median there is a remnant of the trolley line.

There has been some confusion as to why May 8 was considered Emancipation Day in Columbus. The date did not correspond with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation or with the accepted date of the Confederate surrender of the Military Departments Mississippi and Alabama by Confederate General Taylor to Union General Canby near Citronelle, Alabama, on May 4, 1865.

I had often heard that May 8 was the date when the news of the Confederate surrender on May 4 actually reached Columbus. Also adding to the confusion was the fact that the Union cavalry under General Grierson was not sent orders to occupy Columbus until May 10, 1865.

All of that confusion was cleared up in an article by E.T. Sykes in the October 29, 1921 edition of The Columbus Dispatch. Sykes had been in a position to fully know the story. He had served as Adjutant-General of Walthall's Brigade in the Confederate Army.

According to Sykes, the document signed by Generals Canby and Taylor on May 4, 1865 had not been the formal surrender document but only an armistice or temporary cessation of hostilities. The actual surrender document was not signed by both generals until May 8. Sykes concluded his article: "The undersigned writer personally knows that the date of surrender of this (Alabama and Mississippi) Department, and consequent freedom of the Negro in Mississippi, was first officially recognized on May 8th, 1865. E.T. Sykes."
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