The Charleston parades typically ended at White Point Garden, a beautiful park at the base of the city peninsula, where enormous crowds bought peanuts, cakes, fried fish, and sassafras beer from vendors camped out in shady spots. Throughout the South, freedwomen were conspicuous participants in Fourth of July celebrations, pushing back against the gender and, in many cases, class barriers that relegated them to the sidelines of Reconstruction politics.
The domestic workers and washerwomen of the Daughters of Zion and the Sisters of Zion, two benevolent societies in Memphis, Tennessee, marched in parades each year. About two dozen participants—evenly split between men and women—formed a ring, into which one of the female dancers would move while the others sang and clapped. The Too-la-loo allowed ex-slaves to poke fun at the elite courtship rituals of their former masters while also engaging in a raucous celebration of their own emancipation. In , 50 groups danced the Too-la-loo from early morning until after midnight.
The dance was so popular among the freed population in Charleston, in fact, that Too-la-loo eventually became shorthand for the Fourth of July there.
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In Charleston and elsewhere, whites deeply resented their former slaves turning the Fourth into a commemoration of black liberty. At the festivities in Mobile, federal troops from Illinois and Indiana were overheard wishing newly freed slaves dead. They got their wish, in part, in the decade to come, as Fourth of July celebrations became more politically charged affairs.
Republican candidates and officeholders played a prominent role in the festivities in the s, much to the consternation of white Democrats, who used some commemorations as an opportunity to reclaim their power through force of arms. On July 4, , a white mob broke up a Republican rally in Vicksburg, Mississippi, killing a black deputy sheriff. The next year, in the village of Hamburg, South Carolina, anger over a black militia parade on the Fourth boiled over into a full-blown riot that left at least seven African Americans dead at the hands of white vigilantes.
The Hamburg massacre helped conservatives wrest control of local and state governments from the biracial Republican Party that fall, making South Carolina one of the final three Southern states to be returned to the Democratic fold. Compare all 21 new copies. Paperback or Softback. Condition: New. African Americans in Memphis.
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