Norfolk Journal and Guide February 20, 1926

Aged Record of First Emancipation Parade in Norfolk Uncovered

5,000 “Freed Men” Took Part In Great Event of 1863; Names of Langley and Cross Mentioned

Out of the obscurity of 63 years there came to the Journal and Guide this week through the kindness of James M. Harrison, prominent local citizen, what is believed to be a genuine original record of the first emancipation celebration held by the colored people of Norfolk, and the minutes of the proceedings leading thereto.
According to the musty record, the event took place on January 1, 1863, with more than 5,000 “freed men” participating. The printed story of it is dated, April 24, 1863, and signed by one George W. Cook, who explains it in a footnote that it was drawn up from notes taken by one Rev. George N. Greene, the first missionary to the “freed men” of Norfolk, who witnessed the celebration.
The venerable paper, yellowed with the accumulation of the years, is quite well preserved, being torn and tattered only where creased and around its outer edges. Its type is entirely legible, and it bears a good specimen of printing, a kind that might do credit to a number of print shops of modern days. The body type is surrounded with a flashy border, but not a greate deal unlike many seen on later day printing. The whole sheet is about seven inches wide and a foot long. A three-inch margin is between its border and outer edges. The paper appears to have been of excellent stock and with good care will probably survive another half-century. The wording is properly displayed in various type faces according to the required emphasis, just as is done in modern printing.
The antique record, aside from being a curiosity, discloses some choice bits of history relating to Norfolk Negroes. On it are mentioned the name of William Killing, William Sparrow, Willam Miller, William Jacobs, William Oliver, Edward Eichelberg, Samuel Boykin, Edward Langley, and Robert Cross, all of whom were aids to John Milton, who was chief marshal of the celebration. Five Williams are mentioned, which shows William was a poplular name in the stirring pre-Civil War days.
The speeches and prayer, according to the old record, were in good English, which indicates that there were some fairly well educated Negroes in Norfolk ‘fo ‘de war. The mammoth parade assembled on Queen Street was accompanied by two brass bands, which shows that Queen Street always has been the center of the colored section of Norfolk, and that the people here always have had their brass bands.
The celebration was known as the “Freed Man’s” Celebration. It was held on January 1, 1863, the very day on which Lincoln’s final proclamation was issued. It shows therefore, that the event which the colored citizens celebrated here on the first day of last month with elaborate exercises had its beginning not some years after freedom, but on the very first day of the first year that Negroes became free…

February 20, 1926
Norfolk Journal and Guide

The New York Times newspaper also wrote about this celebration:

The New York Times, January 4, 1853


Excitment in Norfolk—-Four Thousand Negroes in Procession, Celebrating the Advent of Freedom

FORTRESS MONROE, Thursday, Jan. 1.

In Norfolk, last evening, owing to the misconstruction of an order, issued for a different purpose, about 2oo persons were arrested, while returning from places of amusement.
Considerable excitement was created in Norfolk, today, by a negro celebration. The contrabands collected together, with their marshals, formed a procession consisting of at least 4,ooo negroes, of all kinds and colors, headed by a band of music, (drums and fifes), and paraded through the principal streets of the city. They carried several Union flags, and cheered loudly for the downfall of African Slavery.
It was understood that they were celebrating the birthday of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The New York Times
January 4, 1863

Black history is everyday. Let’s celebrate!

The Genealogy Situation Room


  1. You caused me to go back into my files on the Harrison history as I vaguely remembered this article. Back in 2011, you sent it to me along with some others covering James..Glad to see your dedication to the search for the truth!!

    Liked by 1 person

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