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Today is Anniversary Day, a celebration of the Sunday Schools of NYC

The state holiday originated as a way to honor the Sabbath school movement.

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Anniversary Day of the Sunday School of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Brooklyn, June 1944. Photo; Howard Hollem/U.S. Farm Security Administration_Office of War Information_Library of Congress.

Anniversary Day of the Sunday School of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Brooklyn, June 1944. Photo; Howard Hollem/U.S. Farm Security Administration_Office of War Information_Library of Congress.

Today, public schools are taking the day off because it is 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.

Throop Avenue Mission Sunday School Building, 1899. The South Third Presbyterian Church of Williamsburg established this Sabbath School in a poor, desolate area of Brooklyn. It birthed a church as well as housing the German YMCA as well as  congregations for German, Rumanian and other immigrants, African Americans. The Fanny Crosby dedicated one of her hymns to the leader of this Sunday School.

Throop Avenue Mission Sunday School Building, 1899. The South Third Presbyterian Church of Williamsburg established this Sabbath School in a poor, desolate area of Brooklyn. It birthed a church as well as housing the German YMCA as well as congregations of African Americans and German, Romanian and other immigrants. Fanny Crosby dedicated one of her hymns to the leader of this Sunday School. Photo from Jubilee Book of Throop Presbyterian Church, restored by A Journey through NYC religions

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.

Anniversary Day Parade on Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 1920s.

Anniversary Day Parade on Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 1920s. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

Anniversary Day of the Sunday School of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Brooklyn. Photo: Howard Hollem/U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information/Library of Congress

Anniversary Day of the Sunday School of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Brooklyn, June 1944. Photo: Howard Hollem/U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information/Library of Congress

Recently, there have been small parades in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

This year’s Brooklyn Anniversary Day parade route will be 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) followed by program and fellowship in the park.

Brooklyn Sunday School Union Luncheon April 26 2014. Photo: John Bryant

Brooklyn Sunday School Union Luncheon April 26 2014. Photo: John Bryant

The parade started 10:30 am and should arrive 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 will march and peform for the Stuyvesant Heights community of Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.

In Queens Wayne C. Vandermark of the Ridgewood-Glendale Sunday School Association has 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.

Harlem Sunday School Parade 2013. Photo: Eullene Inniss

Harlem Sunday School Parade 2013. Photo: Eullene Inniss

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.

Anniversary Day Parade on Arlington Ave, Brooklyn,1945

Anniversary Day Parade on Arlington Ave, Brooklyn,1945

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.

More Info: NY State Consolidated Law, Article 52, Section 2586:

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 narrativel 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 Anniversay Day to our attention). Photos obtained by A Journey through NYC religions.

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