Written By: J. Laura
The Myth Behind the Retail Holiday
Every November after Thanksgiving, Black Friday sales swing in. Though it is now known as a consumer holiday, there is a myth that the term Black Friday originated from the trading of Black slaves.
The Myth Behind Black Friday
The myth arose after there was a claim dating back to the 1800s that Southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving, reported History. This myth has led some to call for a boycott of the retail holiday, though it has not been proven.
The claim gained traction, however, after musician Toni Braxton posted a reference to it on her Facebook page, which read, “It was the day after Thanksgiving when slave traders would sell slaves for a discount to assist plantation owners with more helpers for the upcoming winter.”
However, BBC indicated that the first documented use of the term “comes a long time after the slave trade was abolished in the U.S. and so it makes it unlikely that the term originated then.”
Instead, the retail holiday takes its name from a series of events throughout history.
Black Friday was first associated with a financial crisis in 1986 — which saw a drop rather than an increase in sales, according to The Telegraph.
The Balance further reported that it all started on September 24th, 1869, when the U.S. gold market crashed because of two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk. Gould and Fisk worked together to buy as much gold as they could in hopes of driving up the price, then selling it for profits.
However things didn’t go as planned.
On that Friday in September, Gould and Fisk created a boom-and-bust in gold prices, The Balance explained.
As a result, the stock market crashed, and prices fell 20%. The stock market free-fall caused by Gould and Fisk also led many into bankruptcy, from Wall Street barons to farmers, according to History.
Philadelphia’s Black Friday
But Black Friday was coined back in the 1950s by Philadelphia police to describe the post-Thanksgiving period of chaos that arose after a football match.
History reported that large crowds of tourists and shoppers came to the city after the big Army-Navy football game. The phrase Black Friday was used by the officers to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving.
Philadelphia police officers were unable to take the day off work, and had to work extra-long shifts to help deal with the crowds and traffic. In addition, shoplifters would take advantage to steal things from stores.
But, sales in November were already popular before the Philadelphia police officers coined the term Black Friday, according to The Telegraph.
The Sales Uprising
In 1924, Macy’s, a department store, launched the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, whilst encouraging people to shop in the city the following day, The Telegraph reported. As such, shopping during that period grew popular throughout the 1930s.
By 1939, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the decision to move the date of Thanksgiving to one week earlier — the fourth week of the month — with the hopes that sales will boost the U.S. economy. Because of this — and in conjunction with the Philadelphian Black Friday described by police — the shopping frenzy became more widespread in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Dark Side of Black Friday
The chaos of Black Friday did not end in Philadelphia. There is a dark side to it to this day — the staggering records of violence and deaths.
Now, Black Friday sales have been associated with “thousands of over-eager customers waiting at the entrance of a store,” The Hustle explained.
The Hustle further reported that since 2006, there have been 11 deaths and 108 injuries related to Black Friday incidents. Causes of those 11 deaths vary from shootings to tramplings to car accidents. Additional injuries have been caused by human stampedes, pepper spray, shootings, car accidents, brawls, robberies and stabbings.
For instance, in 2008, Forest Hills Times reported that Jdimytia Damour, a 34 year-old Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death amid a stampede of 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York. Damour was a 6’5”, 270 pound man who was working as a temporary maintenance worker.
After the horrific incident, James Gennaro, a city council member, proposed legislation that would require stores to provide more security when holding big sales events.
Surprisingly, Black Friday sales have spread across the world, from the U.K., to Brazil, India, France, Norway, Romania and Germany.
Though there is no solid proof that suggests Black Friday has anything to do with salvery, especially its brutal and violent killings, it is clear that shopping can kill too. So, shop with better etiquette, and perhaps that could prevent deaths and injuries.