19 June 2020

Elnora Dudley: Queen of the 1898 Emancipation Day

Elnora Dudley 1898 from UDSH.
colorization done by colourise.sg
This is Elnora Dudley (1883-1956) who was crowned the queen of the SLC Emancipation Day celebration of 1898.

Today is Juneteeth, a holiday that will be widely celebrated this year. The Utah Legislature only officially recognized it in 2016. Historically in Utah (until about 1940), Juneteenth was not commonly observed. Rather, Sept 22, which is Emancipation Day, was celebrated by SLC’s African American community.

The first SLC Emancipation Day was celebrated Sept 22 1892, the 30th anniversary of Lincoln’s initial proclamation. Each SLC Emancipation Day featured a parade, speakers, music, and a banquet. The local newspapers made note that this was the first time people of color would parade the streets of SLC.

The 1898 Emancipation Day celebration, of which Elnora was crowned queen, was even more special as it also celebrated the return of the 24th Infantry (Buffalo Soldiers) to Fort Douglas from their recent deployment to Cuba.

Elnora was crowned queen after the parade was completed. She was dressed in white silk and her crown was adorned with pearls. She expressed thankfulness toward Abraham Lincoln and then read the Emancipation Proclamation.

Elnora was the only child of Willis and Mary Ella Dudley. She was born in Tennessee and came to SLC as a child with her parents, about 1892. Her father worked as a porter while her mother ran a small boarding house. Elnora was a talented pianist and often played at community celebrations and weddings.

Elnora never married and she and her mother lived together renting out extra rooms in their home and occasionally working as maids for local hotels. They rented a home in Central City for 22 years and in 1935, 4 years after her mother’s death, Elnora was able to purchase the house for $2,800. Elnora continued to live in her house and rent out extra rooms until her death in 1956. Upon her death her house and all the contents, including her beloved piano, was sold at auction to settle her estate.

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