With less than a month until festivities kick off, Paducah’s W.C. Young Community Center announced this week the itinerary for its upcoming Eighth of August celebration.
The importance of the annual observance — which marks Emancipation Day locally — is one of the most important days for the area Black community.
A 1905 edition of the “Paducah Daily News-Democrat” states that Aug. 8 was chosen because it was when slaves in Santo Domingo (Haiti) earned their freedom. Haiti was the first black republic established in the Western Hemisphere after a slave uprising that began in 1791. It’s frequently said that the day is when news of the Emancipation Proclamation made it to west Kentucky.
“Each year this celebration is very important to the African-American community here in Paducah,” said Marvin Nunn, president of the community center’s board of directors. “To the African-American community, the Emancipation Celebration is a real big deal.
“It’s more like the Fourth of July for Black people in Paducah.”
Given the political atmosphere of the nation — with protests over racism and police violence happening both locally and around the country — Nunn considers the celebration just as vital as ever and hopes that people of all races will participate in the celebration.
“For Black people, we’ve always protested. I just think that the way it’s going about now — when it’s not just the Black community by itself protesting — when the whole nation is protesting where you can actually see it on television has made a great difference.”
Brittney Crim-Freeman, one of the other Eighth of August organizers, agreed.
“The Eighth of August is always important because there’s still room for us as a community, not just as a Black race, to grow,” she said. “(It gives us an opportunity) to show everybody that we haven’t always had a fair chance or an equal opportunity to work, eat, visit or live in the country that we’re in right now.
“This year things are a lot different because of COVID-19. We can’t gather like we’re used to, but just because we’re faced with some obstacles doesn’t mean that we have to stop and put on the back burner what we’re trying to fight for.”
The event, Nunn added, is a homecoming and regularly draws former Black residents of the area back from around the country. With COVID-19 preventing large gatherings, he’s not sure participation of that scale will happen.
This could adversely affect the community center’s funds for the year as the Eighth of August regularly brings in around $15,000 for the organization to use for programming and operations.
“The virus has really put a damper on us in terms of fundraising,” Nunn said. “The resources we make during the Eighth of August help us throughout the whole year.”
Nunn and the rest of the community center board are hoping to make up whatever funding they lose through grants and individual donations, especially since COVID-19 will prevent their allowing the center to be rented out for events.
One of the regular crowd draws for the celebration is the Emancipation Celebration breakfast. The breakfast, which normally features speakers, will be limited to carryout and drive-thru meal pick-ups because of health precautions.
Other activities included in the celebration include an opening ceremony, a silent auction, an outdoor movie night on the community center’s lawn, a fish fry, pageants and a block party, among several others. For information regarding the Eighth of August festivities, visit the W.C. Young Community Center’s Facebook page.
Crim-Freeman, the breakfast’s organizer, thinks the value of the celebration can still be driven home with the theme of “Apart … Together.”
“Just because we can’t get together doesn’t mean that we can’t still educate or inform people of our mission,” she said. “Everything’s going to be done virtually this year so that people can be safe but still have that educational piece and our history brought to the forefront.”
The 8th of August, this year and every year, Crim-Freeman explained, is about “coming together and seeing the struggle and realizing that we’ve made some progress but we’ve still got a long way to go on both ends. We should all be in this hand-in-hand, working together and not having to worry about safety or injustice toward anyone.”