January 1, 2021
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Hallelujah! 2020 is in our rear view mirror and today marks the first day of the New Year, 2021. In celebration of the New Year, we want to share memories of our HistoryMakers from The HistoryMakers archives. 
Waiting for news of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Eve 1862, published by Heard & Moseley, c.1863
One deep-rooted New Year’s Eve tradition is Watch Night Service, which traces its beginning to the Moravian Church of Germany. By 1740 in the U.S., John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, had incorporated Watch Night Service into their proceedings, referring to it as the Covenant Renewal Services, allowing congregants to renew their faith while refraining from the common drinking and partying of New Year’s Eve.[1] In the African American community, these Watch Night services hold even more significance, because on December 31, 1862, “slaves in the Confederate states gathered in churches and private homes on the night before U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was expected to go into effect, pending his signing of the document. The soon-to-be-free slaves stayed awake all night and watched the night turn into a new dawn while waiting for news that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued.”[2] Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson (1911 – 2015) recalled the Watch Night services held at her church in Savannah, Georgia: “On New Year's night the people would come into the church. The Christians, the sinners, the liquor heads… All of them would want to be in the church when the new year rolled around… They would have a watchman at the front of the pulpit… and the guy in the back would say, ‘Watchman what is the hour of the night?’ And I mean that voice was just something… it envelopes you; you just had to stand up and listen. And the watchman would say, ‘It is three minutes of midnight,’ and then they might sing a song and then again he would say, ‘Watchman, what is the hour of the night?’ And then he'd say, ‘Twelve o'clock and all is well.’ Everybody would jump up and start singing (singing), ‘Happy new year, happy new year, happy, happy, happy new year.’ They'd shake hands and hug each other and it was very impressive to me… people would make resolutions.”[3]
New Year’s Eve party, El Dorado Ballroom, Houston, Texas, c.1940s
But many others spent their New Year’s Eve in revelry. Media maven Harriette Cole recalled how “every year for New Year's Eve, my parents [Doris Irene Freeland Cole and Harry Augustus Cole] would throw a big party, my father's birthday is January first, so he would bring the New Year with his friends at a black tie party at our house. And he would decorate for weeks, beforehand and often have a live band and it would be catered or my mother would cook good food… But I remembered that the job that my sisters' and I had was to greet the guest. We would dress up... greet the guest as they came to the door and take their coats and hang them up, and we would have so much fun trying on the ladies' fur coats, after they went… downstairs. We also would be invited at a certain point to come down for a while and we would dance with daddy… it was a black tie party so we got to see how beautiful people can look when they get dressed up. And… [a] great memory of my mother is her in front of her dressing table… she never has worn a lot of makeup but we would see her applying makeup and doing her hair… And it's something that is carried over that we do too.”[4] Mixed media artist Joyce Owens Anderson and her family also threw a fancy party: “My mother [Eloise Owens Strothers], when she married my stepfather, Charles Strothers, who had been a cook during World War II and was a caterer… had a master's degree in restaurant practices, was an incredible cook and they would have these parties… for New Year's Eve… these people come and they're decked out… my Uncle Vincent [Vincent Franklin] would put a mask over his face, he would cover his eyes and play the piano… He would play the piano backwards. People would sing. They would have music. It would be upstairs and downstairs… they'd have tons of food and they drank martinis and Manhattans… and people would stay all night long and we would… sit on the stairs of the basement and watch them dance… they were drinking… behaving badly… so it was a lot of fun.”[5]
Alma and Colin Powell on their wedding day August 25, 1962
Alma Powell remembered in her interview being invited to her future husband, General Colin Powell’s family's New Year's Eve party: "He (Colin Powell) said, ‘You know, you really ought to come to our house for New Year's Eve. My folks [Maud McCoy Powell and Luther Powell] have a whale of a New Year's Eve party.’ I thought, sounds goods, maybe I will… on the 30th December--I got on a… plane… and went to Colin's family's New Year's Eve party, and it was quite a party. They used to have this every year, all the West Indians in the world that they knew. It was the liveliest, happiest thing… they knew how to have fun. My people didn't know how to have fun. My parents didn't drink. Here… there was no stigma to people. That was part of the partying. It was rum and Coke [Coca-Cola], and happy music, and lots of dance, and wonderful food.”[6]
Dinner plate featuring fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, greens, and black-eyed peas
Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris told of her New Year's Eve party: “Every year, I have a New Year's party for my friends and it's what I call the traditional black New Year's, so I have black-eyed peas, and fried chicken, and ham, and collard greens, and macaroni and cheese… sweet potato pie, the whole thing.”[7] Reverend Emmanuel McCall spoke of his family’s traditions: “What my dad [George McCall] did was to raise hogs… and on New Year's Eve we butchered… hogs that would be what we call shoats… a pig between 35, 50 pounds. And… we would do probably 25, 30 of these hogs… when we butchered them, we just hung them up in a tree to freeze overnight. Then on New Year's Day we delivered them to these various ethnic homes… the pig with the apple in its mouth brought in on a tray that was one of their celebrations. Most of the European first-generations celebrated with that pig. And so my dad provided it… would take us maybe three hours to deliver those pigs on New Year's Day… And then we cleaned chitterlings. A smelled that you'll never forget… [and] these would be sold to the black community.”[8]
Cleaning chittlins
Federal District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts added: “Every New Year's Eve, Mom would get some chitterlings, clean them out, and cook them. I smelled those chitterlings cooking and being cleaned. I was too young to appreciate that after they were cooked, they would taste good. All I remembered was the smell. Every New Year's Eve, I got out of the house. When I found out what the chitterlings were, I refused to taste them, to touch them, to eat them… To this day, I've never eaten chitterlings (laughter). But every New Year's Eve, Mom would… take them over to an uncle's house and aunt's house… and we'd enjoy New Year celebrations.”[9] Tuskegee airman Oscar Lawton Wilkerson, Jr. also explained: “For New Year's Day was chittlins or some people would call it chitterlings… And that was the thing… Armour chittlins by the way, it came in a ten pound tin. And then they were pretty clean. And then you had to go through and do a delicate cleaning so that you weren't getting a lot of husk and other things that were not too healthy… Chittlins, corn bread, spaghetti, coleslaw… [and] Black eyed peas for good luck.”[10] City historian Janette Hoston Harris (1939 - 2018) described another common New Year’s Eve tradition in Monroe, Louisiana: “New Year's Eve, my mother could shoot a gun. She would get out and shoot this gun, 'cause that was a tradition down there. My daddy [Eluen Homer Hoston, Sr.] didn't do much shootin'. My mother would shoot… That was a tradition… the big New Year's Eve party and then the gun shooting.”[11] Broadcast journalist Leon Bibb recalled that while growing up in Butler, Alabama, “I never heard a gunshot unless it was on New Year's Eve somebody would fire a weapon… into the air to celebrate the turn of the New Year.”[12] Computer graphics engineer Marc Hannah added that in his hometown of Chicago: “Even my father [Hubert Harvey, Sr.]… had his World War II gun. He used to go out in the backyard and shoot it off at midnight. That was… a celebratory thing.”[13]
Cherry bomb fireworks, 1954
Television journalist Roland Martin described the role of fireworks in New Year's Eve celebrations: “We had these crazy New Year's Eve parties. One of my uncles worked at Astro World, and so he hooked up this huge fireworks display… here we are living in Clinton Park [Houston, Texas]. And so we sit here and block the street off and have this huge fireworks deal.”[14] Chemist Tyrone Mitchell (1939 - 2020) described being mischievous with fireworks on New Year’s Eve: “I do remember growing up, always interested in things that related to science… being very much interested in firecrackers and cherry bombs and things like that… New Year's… I remember using these things to do destructive things in the neighborhood like blow people's mailboxes off the wall… We'd do it and run away… got into a lot of activities like that (laughter).”[15]
A New Year’s card from HistoryMaker Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, executive director and COO of the Black Leadership Forum, to her father who was a travelling musician, age one, 1934
However you spent your New Year’s Eve or are spending New Year’s Day, rejoice in knowing that new days of this new year lie ahead. 
[1] “Are Watch Night services connected to John Wesley?” United Methodist Communications, accessed November 23, 2020. https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-are-watch-night-services-connected-to-john-wesley
[2] “Watch Night: Christian religious service,” Britannica, accessed November 23, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Watch-Night
[3] Amelia Boynton Robinson (The HistoryMakers A2007.244), interviewed by Denise Gines, September 4, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 1, Amelia Boynton Robinson describes the sounds of her childhood.
[4] Harriette Cole (The HistoryMakers A2006.131), interviewed by Denise Gines, November 7, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 5, Harriette Cole describes her father's black tie birthday celebrations.
[5] Joyce Owens Anderson (The HistoryMakers A2006.140), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, November 13, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 2, Joyce Owens Anderson describes her childhood holidays.
[6] Alma Powell (The HistoryMakers A2006.009), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, February 2, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 8, Alma Powell remembers meeting General Colin L. Powell's family.
[7] Carla Harris (The HistoryMakers A2006.097), interviewed by Shawn Wilson, July 22, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 8, Carla Harris describes her earliest childhood memories in Port Arthur, Texas.
[8] Reverend Emmanuel McCall (The HistoryMakers A2004.181), interviewed by Jodi Merriday, September 25, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 9, Reverend Emmanuel McCall recalls the sounds, sights and smells of his childhood.
[9] The Honorable Richard W. Roberts (The HistoryMakers A2007.275), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 28, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 1, The Honorable Richard W. Roberts describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 1.
[10] Oscar Lawton Wilkerson, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2013.202), interviewed by Thomas Jefferson, August 22, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, Oscar Wilkerson describes how his family celebrated the holidays.
[11] Janette Hoston Harris (The HistoryMakers A2004.122), interviewed by Racine Tucker Hamilton, August 10, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 12, Janette Hoston Harris remembers holiday traditions during her childhood.
[12] Leon Bibb (The HistoryMakers A2014.050), interviewed by Larry Crowe, February 13, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 7, Leon Bibb describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood.
[13] Marc Hannah (The HistoryMakers A2011.006), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 10, 2011, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, Marc Hannah recounts the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood.
[14] Roland Martin (The HistoryMakers A2012.063), interviewed by Larry Crowe, May 2, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 6, Roland Martin describes his close-knit family.
[15] Tyrone Mitchell (The HistoryMakers A2012.152), interviewed by Larry Crowe, June 27, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 5, Tyrone Mitchell describes his interdiction to science.
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