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Western Kentucky communities hosting Eighth of August emancipation celebrations

Congregants at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky, gather for a Salute to Gospel concert on Sunday, Aug. 7, as part of the community's Eighth of August celebrations.
Derek Operle
Congregants at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky, gather for a Salute to Gospel concert on Sunday, Aug. 7, as part of the community's Eighth of August celebrations.

Several western Kentucky communities are holding Eighth of August celebrations this weekend honoring the emancipation of formerly enslaved people in the region.

The regional emancipation celebrations in Kentucky and Tennessee are celebrated in similar fashion to the federally-recognized holiday Juneteenth – a day commemorating the date that a group of over 250,000 enslaved people learned they were free in 1865.

Michael Morrow, director of the Struggles for Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky (SEEK) Museum in Russellville, said that different regions in the country have traditionally celebrated Emancipation Day at various times of the year.

“A lot of times people celebrate this when they found out they were free, not necessarily when the Emancipation [Proclamation] was issued,” Morrow said.

While the Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863, freed enslaved people in most Confederate states, it did not apply to states in the Union, like Kentucky, which still allowed slavery at the time. It also did not apply to parts of Confederacy that were already under northern control.

Some historians attribute Eighth of August celebrations in Kentucky and Tennessee to the anniversary of the date U.S. President Andrew Johnson freed his own slaves in 1863 in Tennessee.

Rhonda McCorry-Smith is a former board member for the W.C. Young Community Center in Paducah, the official host of Eighth of August festivities in the far western Kentucky city. She said the August Emancipation celebrations have deep roots.

“The Eighth of August is the Fourth of July to the African American community in this part of the country,” McCorry-Smith said. “Recently, a couple of years ago, Juneteenth was designated a federal holiday. But in this area, we really didn't know anything about Juneteenth other than we heard the word. But we celebrate the Eighth of August and have been doing so since the late 1800s in Paducah, basically.”

Emancipation Day events are taking place every day in Paducah through Tuesday, including an Eighth of August Parade on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Other Paducah venues are also hosting events in conjunction with Eighth of August celebrations. The Carson Center, in partnership with the W.C. Young Community Center, is hosting gospel artist CeCe Winans on Sunday afternoon. Hip-hop star Nelly will also be performing at the Carson Center in a sold-out performance on Saturday.

Hopkinsville’s third annual Taste of the Town food festival – which will feature several Black food vendors – will take place on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Hopkinsville Brewing Co. The Hopkinsville Human Rights Commission is also recognizing the Eighth of August at the Pennyroyal Area Museum on Sunday afternoon with a tribute to African-American history.

The SEEK Museum and the Jack Dappa Blues Heritage Preservation Foundation are hosting a two-day music festival on Friday and Saturday in Russellville. The Black Bottom Acoustic Blues and Field Holler Festivalspotlights Black traditional music, art, folklore, oral histories and Black experiences.

Hannah Saad is the Assistant News Director for WKMS. Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in news media from The University of Alabama in 2021. Hannah moved to western Kentucky in the summer of 2021 to start the next chapter of her life after graduation. Prior to joining WKMS in March 2023, Hannah was a news reporter at The Paducah Sun. Her goal at WKMS is to share the stories of the region from those who call it home. Outside of work, Hannah enjoys exploring local restaurants, sports photography, painting, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.
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