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In a Stressful, Racist World, Thanksgiving Offers the Black Community an Opportunity to Bask in Love of Family

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 8.15.32 PMAs the holidays approach, it is easy to get wrapped up in all the commotion of shopping and Black Friday sales, but it’s also clear that Thanksgiving might just be the most important holiday of the year for the Black community in America.

“Its a time to get together and give God thanks for what he has done for you through the year from January to November and its just a time for family gathering,” said 86-year-old Georgia resident and longstanding celebrator of the holiday Azzie Mae Garland.

Not only is it a time of celebration, it is a day when Black families come together without the pretense of the other big holidays; a time when family can bask in love and try to forget about all the hate and injustice that swirls around us the other 364 days of the year.

“Thanksgiving was the time when everyone tried to come together,” writer Anthony B. Pinn of the African American Lectionary wrote in his essay “Thanksgiving Day.” “Some would drive home and others would fly home. It was about family being together. And unlike Easter, no new clothes were required. Unlike Christmas, you did not have to bring a gift. If dinner was potluck, you had to make a contribution, and that was what made the time great, too. So many gave of themselves and shared their culinary talents.”

Thanksgiving hasn’t only served as a time for Black families to come together, but for the communities as a whole to reach out and heal the wounds that are so prevalent in our neighborhoods.

“It is one of the few times of the year where most families have the chance to give thanks and fellowship with their loved ones,” said 22-year-old college student Raheem Thompson, who will be spending Thanksgiving in Georgia with his family.

“Thanksgiving was not only about one’s personal family, it was about all the families that were part of the human family,” Pinn said in his essay. “This is why African-American churches, small and large, prepared bags and boxes for families that did not have enough to eat; everyone was supposed to dine well on Thanksgiving. Even today, this tradition still continues and, now, some churches have elaborate lists that are handed out to church members long before Thanksgiving Day, to make sure that families within and not within the church receive bountifully on Thanksgiving. ”

Even before Black churches began the practice of serving the community on the holiday, the church has always been at the epicenter of the Black Thanksgiving. Throughout history, Thanksgiving Day sermons have been prominent in Black churches. The sermons were used to recount the hardships of the people as well as to prompt the advancement of the Negro community. African Methodist Episcopalian cleric, Reverend Benjamin Arnett, gave one particularly notable sermon to his congregation on November 30, 1876:

“Then let the grand Centennial Thanksgiving song be heard and sung in every house of God; and in every home may thanksgiving sounds be heard, for our race has been emancipated, enfranchised and are now educating, and have the gospel preached to them,” according to theGrio.

African Americans have a longstanding history with Thanksgiving, dating back to 1777. When the Continental Congress delivered the decree that the 13 colonies should give thanks for the victory over the British at Saratoga, African-Americans were able to take part in the celebrations. Field slaves caught wild game, according to theGrio, often accompanied by a serving of cornmeal, while house slaves ate leftovers from the plantation after the slave-owners families had finished.

In October of 1861, President Lincoln signed the proclamation of a national Thanksgiving Day, sealing that every American no matter race or creed would be able to observe the holiday.

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” the proclamation read.

Thanksgiving was the first American holiday Black people were invited to participate in and has since been cemented into the traditions of many families of color. For Black people, the holiday is more about coming together and being thankful for the progress made than it is about pilgrims or turkey.


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