Why White Fear Of Black Power Outlawed An African American Holiday Before Juneteenth

Long before Juneteenth, enslaved and free Black New Yorkers celebrated African culture during a holiday that eventually made white people feel threatened.

Pinkster (Dutch for Pentecost) marked the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus Christ’s disciples. The religious celebration was a little-known African American holiday with roots in 17th-century Dutch colonial New York. Over time, the festival evolved into “a form of cultural resistance,” that included African dance and drum performances.

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The festival has seen a recent revival, as WABC reports.

Brooklyn-born precussionist bringing awareness about Pinkster tradition

“It was a way for Africans to hold onto their traditions by using European institutions,” Dr. A.J. Williams-Myers, the former chair of SUNY New Paltz Black Studies Department, told the Albany Times Union.

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White folks eventually grew nervous about seeing large groups of unrestrained Black people gathering together, fearing that the enslaved and free Blacks were scheming against them.

Whether the plots were real or imagined, there was good reason to fear the people they shackled and brutalized after reading news of Black uprisings, including Haitians violently overthrowing their French enslavers in 1804 and the 1811 Louisiana Slave Revolt.

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In 1811, New York banned Pinkster gatherings, claiming that the festivities were rowdy. Penalties for violating the ban included fines and jail time.

In a symbolic gesture, city lawmakers in New York’s capital, Albany, unanimously repealed the law in 2011. And a movement is now underway to reinstate Pinkster.

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“My intention is to get it made into a state holiday,” master percussionist Chief Baba Neal Clark, told WABC. “If Juneteenth can be a national holiday, there’s no reason why Pinkster can’t be a New York State holiday.

New York state Assemblymember Brian Cunningham, a Brooklyn Democrat, has sponsored a bill that would make Pinkster a statewide holiday, alongside Juneteenth.

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Being enslaved was a part of life for scores of Black people in New York City. According to the New York Historical Society, 41 percent of the city’s households owned slaves during the colonial period, compared to 6 percent in Philadelphia and 2 percent in Boston. New York State fully abolished slavery in 1827. The U.S. Congress ratified the 13th Amendment to officially abolish slavery nationwide in December 1865.