One of the biggest summer events when I was a child in Hardin County, Illinois was the 8th of August. At the time, I had no idea of the significance of the celebration. All I knew is that we went to Elizabethtown, called E'Town locally, to listen to music, visit with friends and eat the delicious barbecue. Everyone - whether black or white - was invited to participate, but I remember mainly whites attending.
Somewhere along the way, the event was discontinued in E'Town and a Heritage Festival replaced it and is still held on the second Friday and Saturday of August.
The 8th of August continues to be celebrated in western Kentucky, including Paducah and several other towns. In Paducah, the celebration has expanded to several days with a picnic, parade and a lot of music.
So, how did the 8th of August begin? On the 1st day of January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation did not free all slaves; it freed only those slaves held in states which were, at that time, not under the control of the Union. Slaves living in states under control of the Union, including Kentucky, which had never seceded from the Union, were not freed. Slaves in those rebellious southern states (i.e. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, etc) were suddenly free while slaves in Kentucky and Tennessee, which was largely under control of the Union, would not be freed until 1865. All great events - and the emancipation of slaves was certainly a great event - must be celebrated and that is how the 8th of August began. Former slaves gathered to celebrate this life-changing event.
Not all folks celebrate emancipation of the slaves on August 8. Different states celebrate on different days - Florida celebrates on May 12th and Alabama and Georgia celebrate on May 28th. In Kentucky and Tennessee, the 8th of August is the special day. Why the day was celebrated in a non-slaveholding state like Illinois is unknown. Perhaps the celebration was begun in southern Illinois by former slaves from Kentucky.