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Black History

How Did Black Friday Get Its Name? It’s Not What You Think





By G. Brown

Finally, that handy dictionary app on my smart phone pays off and proves itself timely with today’s word of the day: ONIOMANIAan uncontrollable desire to buy things.

The turkey and dressing barely digested and it was time to move on to the next big holiday…Christmas!   Retail outlets are ready to help get you in the Christmas spirit by greeting you with stores all decked out with decorations and the sounds of Jingle Bells.

We all know Black Friday is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year and launches the critical shopping period that brings in annual retail sales of about 30 percent. This year, almost 100 million people are projected to take part in the frenzy that has become as much a part of the Christmas lore as Santa and the elves.

The name “Black Friday” is curious itself. Often, society has a way of linking things labeled “black” to negative or derogatory inferences…Black Death (the Bubonic plague that killed an estimated 200 million people during the middle ages)  Black Hats (often the villains or in this digital age the hackers) Black eye (usually meaning you got beat up).  Let’s interject there are many occasions where Black also denotes a good thing–Black people, Black Box (the only thing often salvageable from a plane crash with clues to solving what went wrong) and would you believe Black Friday. While some may think to wake up before the crack of dawn, fighting (sometimes literally) the crowds and shopping until you drop and your bank account is dry is a negative–the overall meaning is that it is a time of surplus and profit for businesses.

There’s a couple of stories that link Black Friday to slave days and spin a yarn (or some variation of it) about how plantation owners would sell slaves for a big discount on the day after Thanksgiving to help new owners prepare for the upcoming chores of winter like wood chopping etc. Social media has breathed new life into some of these stories with people posting them on Facebook & IG.

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black friday slavery














The stories connecting Black Friday origins to slave days are false. Though the exact derivation of the term Black Friday has a bit of an obscured origin, it didn’t come into colloquial use until almost a century after slavery was abolished.

There are some sources that trace use of the term back to the early 1950’s, but the phrase seemed to flourish and actually catch on in the ‘60s.  Some historical accounts ( say the term originated in Philadelphia to describe the disruptive vehicle and foot traffic that occurred in Center City and other major shopping areas.

A more logical explanation ties the phrase in with simple accounting or bookkeeping terminology.  Stores that were sometimes “in the red” (financial loss) found that on the days following Thanksgiving their profits were up and operating “in the black.”

By the new millennium, stores like J.C. Penny, Macy’s and Sears, were opening their doors at 4 & 5 a.m. to squeeze every dime out of consumers they were willing to surrender.

So if you were willing to sit this shopping tradition out because of fear that Black Friday arose from negative origins, feel free to shop with a guiltless conscience that you’re taking part in a day that was not born of a gloomy time in history. As for feeling guilty because after shopping all day on Black Friday, your personal finances are in the red—you’ll have to work through that on your own.


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