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How Black Friday became associated with sales

November 30, 2019 GMT

CLAIM: The term “Black Friday” originated with the practice of selling off slaves the day after Thanksgiving. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The term was linked to a financial crash in the late 1800s, and in the mid-1900s became associated with shopping the day after Thanksgiving.

THE FACTS:  In the runup to the Thanksgiving holiday false claims tying the term Black Friday to the sale of slaves recirculated on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the posts included a photo available through the State Library of Victoria in Australia that shows a group of indigenous prisoners in neck chains in Western Australia. The photo is dated from 1898-1906.

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In 1869, financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk tried to corner the gold market by buying up gold to drive prices higher, but the scheme backfired and the gold market crashed on Sept. 24, 1869, leading the day to be called Black Friday. 

The term’s use in relation to shopping the day after Thanksgiving is most often traced to Philadelphia where its credited to police who had to deal with large crowds who thronged the streets of the city before the annual Army-Navy game and to take advantage of sales.

According to the Dec. 18, 1961, issue of Public Relations News, a newsletter, it became customary for police to refer to post-Thanksgiving shopping as Black Friday and Black Saturday because of the headache they created.

A 1975 Associated Press article quotes a sales manager at Gimbels department store who was watching a police officer try to control jaywalkers the day after Thanksgiving. “That’s why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today ’Black Friday. They think in terms of headaches it gives them,” she said. 

Michael Lisicky, who has written several books on the history of department stores, confirmed in an email that “Black Friday” was tied to Philadelphia police officers trying to  control crowds after Thanksgiving. 

“I have never come across the connotation that Black Friday originates from the selling of slaves, especially on the day after Thanksgiving,” Lisicky said. 

 The term has also been used by retailers who say that Black Friday represents the time when they go from operating in the red to the black as sales boost profits.

The Associated Press reported a Black Friday backlash on Friday in Europe with activists and politicians criticizing the U.S. for its capitalist splurging. French activists blocked an Amazon warehouse on Friday in protest as some French lawmakers considered banning the day all together over environmental concerns. 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform. 

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536