Digital North Carolina Blog

Digital North Carolina Blog

This blog is maintained by the staff of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and features highlights from the collections at DigitalNC, an online library of primary sources from institutions across North Carolina.

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Labor Day in North Carolina

In 1894, Congress passed into federal law the national observance of Labor Day, a day of “rest and recreation” for the “laboring man” to reinforce his “honorable as well as useful place in the body politic.” Twenty-three states (North Carolina not among them) had already been celebrating a “labor day” in the years preceding 1894, and the tradition garnered enough Congressional attention to rise to the level of a federal holiday.

Because this tradition wasn’t broadly adopted in North Carolina until it became a federal holiday, most mentions in the state’s newspapers preceding 1894 report on other states’ celebrations like this clipping from the September 5, 1888 Daily Review out of Wilmington which warns of “red-handed and black-hearted Anarchists.”

"Monday was Labor Day in the North, East, and West."

From the Wilmington NC Daily Review

While we don’t see them as much today, parades were a near requirement of early Labor Days, with labor organizations creating floats and marching in celebration. The closing of businesses and a rest from all kinds of work were also a requirement. When North Carolina newspapers start mentioning the observance of Labor Day, there’s another recurring theme: Barbecue. One of the earliest examples we could locate, from 1907, talks about “a big barbecue and brunswick stew” served up at the fairgrounds in Raleigh.

From the Smithfield Herald

Barbecue (frequently FREE barbecue) continues to be mentioned as part of the main event. In 1912 Spencer had a “big barbecue” and a “big parade,” along with games, races, fireworks, and “a demonstration in motor plowing.”

Newspaper clipping about Labor Day celebrations in 1912

From the Mebane Leader

We hope you’re celebrating Labor Day by resting from work and enjoying delicious barbecue or the North Carolina delicacy of your choice!

Newspaper clipping of an advertisement for a Labor Day Barbecue


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