On June 9, 2016 public schools will celebrate Brooklyn-Queens Anniversary Day. The holiday was created by the New York State Legislature in 1959 in commemoration of the organization of Sunday schools and the Brooklyn Sunday School Union Society.
In the 19th Century Sabbath or Sunday schools were a powerful feature of education in the city. Churches had very large Sabbath schools in their own buildings. These schools were the primary educators of many African Americans because the public schools were segregated. Quickly, the Sabbath schools lead to the establishment of “African schools” which became public schools.
The Sabbath schools also educated many immigrants into English speaking, reading and writing and knowledge of the Bible. Catholics and Jews established similar schools, noting that they didn’t want the Protestants educating their children.
On April 8, 1816 the Brooklyn Sunday School Union was founded. Starting in 1829, the union held Rally Day Parades which are the origins of Anniversary Day. The parades grew to the point of attracting 75,000 participants. In 1966 the Brooklyn organization was recognized by the U.S. Congress as being the oldest organization of its kind in America.
Recently, there have been small parades in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.
In 2013 the Brooklyn Anniversary Day parade marched westward down DeKalb Ave. from Broadway – to – Stuyvesant Ave., down Stuyvesant Ave., ending at Fulton Park (Stuyvesant Ave., between Chauncey and Fulton, across from Boys & Girls HS). It was followed by program and fellowship in the park.
The parade started 10:30 am and arrived at the park by 12 noon with a program starting at 12:30pm. The show-style marching bands and drumlines of the Black & Gold Marching Elite and the Berean Community Drumline marched and performed for the Stuyvesant Heights community of Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.
In Queens Wayne C. Vandermark of the Ridgewood-Glendale Sunday School Association also organized a parade.
In Harlem several churches participated in holding a parade in 2013. The sponsors included: Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Bridge Street AME Church, Bethany Baptist Church, Brown Memorial Baptist Church and Cornerstone Baptist Church.
As you can probably imagine, closing the schools for a day was not without some amount of controversy -- especially after Brooklyn became part of New York City. Following consolidation of the City of Brooklyn into New York City, the School Board realized that if they closed the schools for a day, they would lose funding from the City for the day (about $16,000 in 1898). They petitioned the Sunday School Union to move the holiday to a non-school day, but the Sunday School Union refused.
There were also many complaints over the years about the holiday being a violation of the separation of church and state. A 1902 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle argued "why should this day, which is purely a "church" day, interfere with time belonging to a public school? Why must thousands of children stay [home] from school and loaf all day, simply because, perhaps, one-tenth have a church calling them away." However, supporters of the parade noted that the letter writer had his facts wrong. In an article in The Brooklyn Eagle the reporter noted that over 60% of Brooklyn was Protestant.
In that year the parades were not held but not because of church-state reasons. The reason was the loss of funding. By 1905, the State Legislature created Brooklyn Day as an official holiday, closing the schools in Brooklyn for the day so that children could participate in the parades.
In 1959, the Queens Federation of Churches noted that they had been holding Sunday School parades for almost a hundred years and asked the New York State enact a law that allowed schools in Kings and Queens counties to be closed for the celebration -- that's when "Brooklyn Day" became "Brooklyn-Queens Day".
As of 2006, Brooklyn-Queens Day is a day off for students in all New York City public schools; it's now called Chancellor’s Day and is scheduled as a staff development day to work on school standards and testing.
In some years, the holiday falls on the SECOND Thursday in June, because of the wording of the State law, which states that the day off will be on: "the first Thursday in June in each year, except in those years when the first Thursday in June occurs in the same week with Memorial day, and in such years the second Thursday in June” is the holiday.
S 2586. Anniversary day as a holiday in the public schools of the borough of Brooklyn and in the borough of Queens, city of New York. The first Thursday in June in each year, except in those years when the first Thursday in June occurs in the same week with Memorial day<, and in such years the second Thursday in June, known as anniversary day, and celebrated in commemoration of the organization of Sunday schools, is hereby made and declared to be a holiday in all the public schools in the borough of Brooklyn and in the borough of Queens, city of New York, and the board of education of such city is hereby authorized and directed to cause all the public schools in such boroughs to be closed on such day.
Much of the historical narrative is taken directly from the Welcome to Brooklyn! wiki with some additions and corrections by A Journey through NYC religions (thanks to Jim Espo for bringing the Anniversary Day to our attention). Photos obtained by A Journey through NYC religions.