This Is How You Have A Black Thanksgiving

The President and his daughters Sasha and Malia participate in the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon/The White House/Wikimedia/

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Ever since Black folks were brought to America, we’ve put our own twist on foreign traditions. Thanksgiving Day is no different. And Black Thanksgiving celebrations have historically focused on liberation.

Before Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863, folks all over America celebrated the fall harvest in various ways.

But, there was very little to be thankful for while enslaved in a foreign land under conditions unfit for animals. So, many enslaved people used the opportunity to take their freedom into their own hands.

During Thanksgiving, the work schedule was more relaxed than normal. Enslaved Black folks plotted their escape before Thanksgiving, then fled once the plantation owner left the property for the holiday.

Slavery ripped apart Black families. Some never saw their loved ones again. Those fortunate enough to work on neighboring plantations could obtain passes to go visit family during the holidays.

Enslaved folks used these passes as a method of escape. If “slave patrols” caught them, they referenced their passes as a legitimate reason for being away from the plantation.

Some plantation owners had a solution for this, though. During holidays, owners often forced enslaved Blacks to overindulge in alcohol, which kept them from doing anything constructive.

Thanksgiving church sermons during slavery also focused on liberation. It was common to hear preachers calling for America to put an end to the institution of slavery.

In 1808, pastor Absolom Jones addressed his congregation on Thanksgiving, giving thanks for “The Act Prohibiting Importation Of Slaves,” which prohibited new Africans from being brought to America for enslavement.

In 1828, pastor Hosea Easton delivered a fiery Thanksgiving Day sermon to Blacks in Rhode Island that called for “racial uplift” of the Black race.

When Blacks began repatriation to Africa in the 1820s, many took the Thanksgiving celebration with them. They were thankful for their freedom, and new opportunities in their homeland – a return most thought they would never experience.

Over time, however, Blacks came to view Thanksgiving similar to the rest of America - a time to gather with family, watch football, and enjoy delicious food. What seems to be missing, though, is the focus on liberation.

Although we are not enslaved, we are still oppressed in all areas of life. So, if you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, consider doing what our ancestors did. Take the opportunity to build with your family and friends. Spark productive conversations and strategize about tackling the issues we face in society. Be thankful for your freedom, but remember the fight for liberation is not over.

If you’re interested in adding some more recipes to your Thanksgiving repertoire, check out “Rufus Estes Good Things To Eat: The First Cook book By An African American Chef”. For the history of Southern Black food in America, check out The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.

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