“Old Slave Day” in Southern Pines, 1934

I found this fascinating photo in a November 23, 1934 issue of The Pilot, from Southern Pines, N.C. Apparently the inaugural Spring Blossom Festival, held in Southern Pines in April 1934 featured an “Old Slave Day.” The newspaper description reads:

The Festival was featured by Old Slave Day, a day set aside for those of the colored race who lived during slavery days. These old timers came from far and near, spent a day in the Municipal Park telling of their experiences and recollections to the thousands that gathered about to see and hear them. A program of entertainment was provided, in which both white and colored participated, and the day was one long to be remembered throughout this section. Old Slave Day will be repeated this year.

I don’t recall seeing anything like this before. Were “Old Slave Days” common at public events in the early 20th century?

There are now more than 600 issues of The Pilot, ranging in date from 1929 to 1942, available on DigitalNC.org in the North Carolina Newspapers project.

13 thoughts on ““Old Slave Day” in Southern Pines, 1934”

  1. Flashblack: Old Slave Day Reunion

    Just viewed in today’s The Pilot the inaugural Old Slave Day reunion in 1934, where 86 former slaves of antebellum families in the Moore County and Southern Pines area attended a picnic provided by their former owners. First I can’t imagine having such an event after the Civil War, second anyone of the these former slaves who are now free would return to their previous ‘home’ where they were owned and probably not well taken care of, and third, why would any owner in 1934 want others to know she/he had owned slaves. This entire idea and reunion is an affront to those who gave their lives so crops could be sown, picked and hauled to market in Moore County. Are we as residents of this county proud of this picture in today’s paper?

  2. Old Slaves Days was not an affront to anyone, least of all to the blacks in the area, and certainly not to the old ex-slaves themselves. The local civic-minded business people encouraged these gatherings as both a curiosity designed to bring in tourists and, in its own way for those times, a nod to the ex-slaves who were still living in their later years. While we would cringe at that spectacle today – old ex-slaves living in poverty for most of the year, and then suddenly treated like royalty for a couple of days before being returned to their hovels – in fact many enjoyed it, and felt appreciative of the honor.
    My mother was a ten-to-twelve-year-old in Southern Pines in those days and she vividly recalled how the chairs would be put out under the shade trees and the local whites would wander through and talk to the ex-slaves about the early days. The old-timers would be fed good meals, there would be a gymkhana and baseball games, a prayer service and hymn sing – all in honor of the ex-slaves.

    Of course the irony of the blacks living in continual poverty is our awareness today and it doesn’t benefit anyone – and it’s historically dishonest – to apply our standards to a different time. At the time, in spite of the blatant racism upon which our whole society was built, many of the old ex-slaves very much appreciated the recognition. Years later my mother wished she could have taped the many conversations she heard.

    1. It would have been quite interesting to hear what these gentlemen would say amongst themselves, away from the white folks who attended.
      I would certainly guarantee their conversations amongst each other would take on an entirely different perspective than what the white folks may have thought back then.

  3. One of men in that photo is my great grandfather. I wish I knew which one. Nevertheless, he was an enslaved child and later he became a pastor in Southern Pines and his wife (my great grandmother) who was much younger than him was a teacher and a nurse. I was able to spend some time with her as a child in New York, but I wish I had asked her about her past. I do know this for a fact that she was a loving and godly woman. P.S. It’s has been stated that my great grandfather was one of the founders of that “Old Slave Day” event.

  4. This is an historical crime and your ignorance of fundamental good behavior and/ or christian/ judeo / atheist values here in the land of milk and honey is appalling… Thats right Mr Kendrick im talking to YOU!
    These formerly enslaved individuals were probably suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and probably in need of medical attention. Instead of the good Christian ” white” parading around like it was a school trip to the zoo – money should have been COLLECTED and disbursed to the formerly enslaved… Thats right they weren’t slaves just enslaved- to show you the diminished mental capabilities of the enslavers and their descendents. Also im sure all the good ‘ white ‘ folk in attendance lived in segregated communities and participated in the murder and disenfranchisment of the PEOPLE of COLOR within the state had a good time. If there is a judgment day and a hell im pretty sure you can figure out who’s not going to be there. Please forgive me i gotta vomit now.

  5. Davi Cool…I applaud you on your comments. Only the perpetrators of this debacle would think there was nothing wrong with this and that Old Slave was a good thing at the time. And you wonder why relations between Caucausians and African-Americans are still divided in 2019! Sheesh!

  6. This is totally pathetic and the lady who brags about what great food they were given need deep serious mental health treatment. If she could she would still want this event and bake a pie and give to them and brag about it.

  7. Tonya Baysmore and Thomas Kendrick!
    I understand your sentiments. Neither of you expressed support of “Old Slave Days.”
    My understanding of your comments is your putting into perspective what the formerly enslaved felt about the “Days.”
    I think you were quite clear that today we would interpret the event quite differently.

    Let ’em vomit. They probably don’t understand Juneteenth celebrations either.
    Different strokes.

    I *get* your comments.

  8. My grandmother was born in Southern Pines in 1898 and left for NYC in 1920 I have a picture of my great grandparents and his last name was Harrington? I still have a cousin who lives in Southern Pines and her name is Dunk and a cousin who lived their for years and we called him Uncle Sunny I like to know more about enslaved persons in Southern Pines and Old Slave Day. My grandma first name was Eva. I have been to the grave yard in Southern Pines and my grandmother is buried there, (1977)Help if you can .

  9. As Americans, some of us black and white don’t understand that American chattel slavery was Totally Inhuman. An evil before GOD. On any given day a slave, not thought to be human anyway, could be worked and whip almost to the point of death; sold; or experienced their child being sold; family separated; or even lynched like a rag doll. American Slaves for fear of death itself had to pretend that all was well to basically Survive and to Exist and to Get Along with the Master or any White that felt at any time that they wanted to take the life of the slave into his own hands. The truth is that Whites have as a race dominated the lives of blacks even well beyond the shackles of slavery were removed, and black have acquiesced in hope that doing so might bring some sense of peace, stability, and freedom into the fragile nature of living in this nation while black. It is demeaning to feel isolated or not a part of the wholeness of society. That is why the “Old Slaves” may have subjected themselves to such a spectacle. Believe it or not, it was likely their efforts of showing up were to just get along with their former abusers, so the former slave could mentally balance and assimilate into a so called “free society” that was and still is greatly flawed. There is so much mental insanity here on both sides. In large part, white Americans are not honest about the history or embracing that the past does hold relevance (to not re-live the history) but to understand it in order that healing can occur in the NOW. It is a miracle that ancestrally blacks were not completely genetically eliminated from the planet. We all know that over generations (through Segregation, and Jim Crows, etc.) there has been constant organizational, systematic, unjust, and lawful assaults on blacks in this America. Yes it’s true, there were LAWS (written by white lawmakers) that prohibited black people from even voting, and that classified blacks as 4/5 of a human being. It was against the Law for black to attempt to educate themselves or read… A slave or anyone showing a slave could end up dead. This was not vigilante rule, it was U.S. Government “Law”.. So so many more examples of disparities. If you could imagine a view into the mind of American slavery, it was Domestic Terrorism plain and simple and it was Lawful y’all. Many slaves and more so the descents of slaves over generations defied insurmountable odds, and found ways to survive and pull themselves up- such as the Preacher and the Teacher that one person mentioned. If there were an “Old Slave Day” held in 2021, I would expect that the stories of the slaves would be the context of a teachable moment, and the location would not be a picnic to feed the slaves in appreciation or in honor of being a slave but rather, a national dialogue on how the stain and distain of chattel slavery ever existed here, why was it able to thrive in the face of such human suffering and carnage; the generational impact it had, the lives it destroyed, the lives it enriched, the TRUTH, and the RECONCILIATION needed so the holdover affects rooted into the Present can be snuffed-out for GOOD, and this should never happen again ..

  10. Hello. My name is Lowell Thompson. I wrote the pictorial history book, “African Americans in Chicago” for Arcadia Publishing, America’s biggest publisher of pictorial history books. I’m working on a new book, “AfAm Album”, and I’d like get access to more photos and info about this event and other AfAm related documents you may have. Please contact me at lowelltho@gmail.com. Thanks!

  11. KD I’m from southern pines why can’t we have old white day and put them under a nice tree and they can talk about how they mistreated there fellow human being and bakpe pies and cakes and talk about the hanging the beating and the raping of the black women the selling of their kids.

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