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FREEDMEN'S FESTIVAL

The FREEDMEN'S FESTIVAL, an annual early fall celebration held by Cleveland blacks (see AFRICAN AMERICANS) to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation and acknowledge the struggle to end slavery in the U.S., began in 1863. Frederick Douglass, the celebration's first speaker, set the tone for future events, paying tribute to the valiant deeds of blacks in arms in the CIVIL WAR and praying for the souls of the dead. Each successive celebration emphasized this: at the 1868 festival, for example, a list of Cleveland's black soldiers was read as their company colors were raised (see BLACK MILITARY UNITS). Prior to 1863, blacks throughout the North, including Cleveland, had celebrated the end of slavery in Haiti at an event called the West Indian Emancipation Celebration. These festivities served as fundraisers for the Cleveland Freedmen's Aid Society and the Freedmen's Education Society. The last festival was held in Oct. 1873.