Before festivities began on election day, slaves held meetings to listen to candidates’ speeches. Over several weeks they debated each other to determine who among them should be chosen governor or king.
Once the election took place, the winner paraded through town on a horse borrowed from his master, with aides on each side also riding on borrowed horses. The parade included the entire slave community (or at least all who were able), dressed in their best festive attire. Some played fifes, fiddles, drums, and horns.
After the parade, people gathered for a feast, then competed in athletic contests, dancing, gambling, and drinking. For many whites, the election festivities were “amusing” and reinforced their stereotypical view that slaves were mere children imitating their masters.
But, for slaves, the elections were opportunities to exert some control over public expression and to demonstrate their solidarity as a community. These events also paved the way for political engagement of emancipated African Americans in later years.
As African Americans took more control over election days and coronation festivals— as they did with other early festivals, such as Pinkster—white authorities began to curtail their observance by passing local laws against black gatherings.
In addition, the abolition of slavery contributed to the festivals’ demise, after which observances such as Emancipation Day and Juneteenth held more importance.