Preserving an African American Holiday

Every spring, the city of Albany still celebrates Pinkster as a way to honor the city’s Dutch roots. This ancient religious and social holiday, though, survived long after the Dutch were replaced by the English — thanks to African American slaves, for whom Pinkster became the most important holiday in the year.

At Pinkster, slave owners allowed their slaves some time to reunite with friends and family members, some of whom lived far away, to celebrate, play games, dance to African music, trade goods and of course drink. By the early 1800s Pinkster was considered an African American holiday, with big celebrations in New York City and on Albany’s Pinkster Hill, now occupied by the State Capitol. 

During the 1700s, slave owners grew more fearful of slave rebellion, and Pinkster was outlawed by the 1810s. It took 150 years before the holiday was revived in Albany and at places like Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow. Today, Pinkster is recognized as the oldest African American holiday in the United States.

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The Albany residence of Stephen and Harriet Myers (left) is listed on the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail and is a site on the National Park Service’s National Network to Freedom. The Myerses, both freed slaves, assisted others to escape from slavery for nearly 30 years.

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