Friday, November 24, 2017

The Emancipation Banquet

St. Paul, Minnesota 

In January of 1888, a group of gentlemen held a dinner at a private club in St. Paul, Minnesota to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. This wartime executive order, issued by President Lincoln, freed the slaves in the Confederacy. The menu for the event included not only the bill of fare and list of toasts but also a remarkable seating chart. This chart featured the names of participants as well as leaders who were remembered for their roles in the struggle for freedom, symbolically present in spirit.

The event was held at the Crescent Club, an African-American social club on Cedar Street.1 After several hours of “cards and other light amusements,” the members sat down at 11:00 PM for a late supper. The cuisine and order of speeches on the menu follow the conventions of the era. The unusual seating chart appears on the back page. Some of the twenty-eight honorees are still acclaimed; others have been largely forgotten. The list begins with the abolitionist John Brown and ends with Robert B. Elliott, an African-American member of the U. S. House of Representatives from South Carolina, serving from 1871 to 1874. A lawyer by profession, he ran successfully for State Attorney General in 1876 but was forced out of office the following year when the last of the federal troops were withdrawn from South Carolina. Impoverished, Robert Elliot died in 1884 at the age of forty-one.

If this banquet were held today, the list would include the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who made many references to the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil Rights Movement. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in March 1963, King began by saying, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.”

1. St. Paul Globe, 13 January 1888, p.4


Unknown said...

Your menu articles are highly anticipated and always well researched. Rarely do I finish one of your blog posts without wanting to know more about the subject, and consulting the internet or an encyclopedia to find out more.

Jan Whitaker said...

Quite a treasure!