Emancipation “Jubilee” in New York City

With the recognition of Juneteenth on Friday, June 19th in New York, we can reflect on how emancipation was first celebrated in New York City after the passage, of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. We can only conjecture what the Free Academy boys witnessed in the days following the historic event, but we do know that not everyone celebrated, and there were several factions critical of emancipation.

Blacks and abolitionists did rejoice at the proclamation. An Emancipation “Jubilee” was held at Cooper Union, where President Lincoln delivered his famous speech on February 27, 1860, which is thought to be responsible for his presidential victory.

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 1861 New York Public Library

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 1861. New York Public Library

“Last evening the second jubilee meeting in honor of the President’s Emancipation Proclamation, was held at the large hall of the Cooper Institute,…the chairman explained the object of the meeting, and said that the anniversary of January 1, 1863 would always be held as a jubilee, for on that day Abe Lincoln,…knocked slavery, with his Governmental axe, into pieces much smaller than rails.

A band of colored musicians were in attendance and enlivened the meeting by many patriotic airs.” [1]

Emancipation became a divided issue in New York City, and antiwar activism spread. It was not until June 19th, 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that enslaved people were free, that celebrations began. In 1866, the tradition of yearly commemorations started, and continue to the present day.


[1] “Another Emancipation Jubilee” New York Times, January 21, 1863, p.8.


Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Holzer, Harold. Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

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