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Emancipation Day at Rice Lake

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On this date in 1924, Ward County's Rice Lake resort hosted the biggest celebration of Emancipation Day in North Dakota history.

On August 2, 1924, the Bismarck Tribune wrote, “A big emancipation day celebration is planned, at which between 3,000 and 5,000 people are expected.”

On July 31, the Berthold Tribune wrote, “Big Negro Emancipation Picnic will be held at Rice Lake Aug. 3.” That same day, the Ryder News and the Makoti Sentinel reported that this celebration would “...be patterned very much after affairs of that kind which have been held in the south for years...”

From the 1840's to the 1910's, Afro-Americans in northern states celebrated August 1 or soon thereafter to celebrate the British Empire's peaceful emancipation of slaves in the 1830's. Although many of these celebrations shared a legacy of social segregation with Juneteenth, some celebrations invited everyone.

On August 7, 1924, the Makoti Sentinel reported:

“A large crowd of Makoti folks journeyed to Rice Lake last Sunday and enjoyed the day to the utmost. The roasted ox and 1500 buns were disposed of in a hurry to the crowds and the red hot tomolies were also served in abundance.

The most interesting part of the day's entertainment was Carter, the negro musician and entertainer who kept the crowd jolly throughout the day.

Mr. Gronager of DesLacs, civil war veteran delivered a very interesting address on civil war times and his experience while in the service. Special accent was given in his brief mention of the hard times following the war and he stated the present times to be much better than those of his time.

Immediately after his speech the Bismarck and Karlshue baseball teams crossed their bats on the new diamond and a very interesting game was witnessed by many spectators. At the end of the 9th inning, when the dust cleared away Karlshrue was found to be victorious...”

Karlsruhe won the game, 13-7 or 14-7, depending on the source.

No other celebration like this is known to have happened in North Dakota, before or since.

In 1924, the Non Partisan League and the Ku Klux Klan were in a tug-of-war over the allegiance of gubernatorial candidate Arthur Sorlie. This celebration one week before Sorlie's rally at Rice Lake may have tarnished his reputation among Klansmen. The proof of this integrated celebration is in the pudding: the Klan apparently bypassed Ward County. The Red River Valley's contemporary exodus of Afro-Americans was not replicated in western North Dakota.

View the full list here.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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