Explain the history of Juneteenth


Visitors to the Newberry Opera House can see a mural created by Robert Matheson, on the occasion of Juneteenth.

Andrew Wigger | The Newberry Watcher

NEWBERRY COUNTY – On June 19, the town of Newberry will celebrate the first Juneteenth Festival here in Newberry, marking what the Smithsonian website calls America’s second independence day.

Next week, The Newberry Observer will publish an article detailing what the festival will offer the community. However, it is just as important to know and understand why this historic celebration is taking place.

According to Smithsonian website, “The eve of freedom”, the eve of January 1, 1863, the first services of Watch Night took place. That night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country, awaiting news of the Emancipation Proclamation coming into effect. At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all the slaves of the Confederate States were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched on plantations and through southern towns reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation spreading the news of freedom in the Confederate States. It was only through the Thirteenth Amendment that emancipation ended slavery throughout the United States.

“But not everyone in Confederate territory would be immediately free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, slaves would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The military announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved blacks in the state were free by executive decree. This day became known as “June” by the newly released people in Texas. “

the Smithsonian website says, “June marks the second independence day of our country. Although it has long been celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unrecognized by most Americans.

The idea for a June 17 celebration arose at a Newberry City Council meeting by Councilor Jackie Holmes in September 2020, a committee of seven was then formed in January 2021.

“This is Newberry Juneteenth’s inaugural event, which means most people will not have had a Juneteenth experience, let alone the historical significance of the holiday. When planning the festival, it became essential to plan a historical exhibition that would talk about what Juneteenth is, its historical significance, its place in history, why we are celebrating it now and in the future ”, a said Mary Alex Kopp, Tourism and Events. manager with the town of Newberry.

Committee member Sheila Brown said of Juneteenth, “On this day I celebrate the liberation of my ancestors from slavery. The day they had fought for and prayed for had finally arrived. I feel blessed for the huge sacrifices they paid with their blood, sweat, tears and life to make sure I had a better life. Because of our ancestors’ faith in God and their refusal to give up, we were able to pursue our dreams, achieve goals, and live a life they believed we deserved. And for that, I will always be grateful to them.

To help with this element of history, there will be a history exhibit at the Newberry Opera House as well as more in-depth learning items at the Newberry Museum.

The exhibition at Newberry Opera House begins with videos that help explain Juneteenth and the Black experience. These videos include: “What is Juneteenth? Courtesy of ABC7 KGOTV, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Amanda Gorman reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” courtesy of C- SPAN.

Visitors will then see a mural painted by Robert Matheson, commissioned by the committee.

Images depicted in the mural include: Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, known for her reign during the rapid growth of the slave trade, she fought for the independence of her kingdoms from the Portuguese; transatlantic slave trade ship; Fredrick Douglas, Robert Smalls, Harriet Tubman, three influential people who fought for justice and slave freedom in southern Antebellum; Juneteenth breaking chain; Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Tommie Smith (gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics), Guion Bluford Jr. (astronaut), influential figures of the mid-20th century; Image of Emanuel AME church, homage to Emanuel 9; Barack Obama, first black president; Triptych of black lives lost in 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, behind a protester; Dr Julian Grant, Chef Roy McClurkin, Zebbie Goudelock, Jackie Holmes, Carlton Kinard – tribute to Newberry leaders and black community firsts.

Further into the exhibit, visitors will see items donated by members of the community, including, but not limited to, a copy of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, antique irons and teapot, a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. of the Baptist Church in Bethlehem.

To view the display, drop by the Newberry Opera House during regular business hours.

Regarding the celebration, Brown said, “I am delighted that we are celebrating our first Juneteenth event in Newberry. It is a joy to see the commitment and effort made by the Town of Newberry, its officials and citizens to commemorate this special day which represents liberation from slavery.

“I look forward to celebrating our rich culture and history through all of the vendors, talents, artists, authors, videos, artifacts, community information and educational materials that will be showcased on this day. I hope all participants will immerse themselves in the celebration enjoying each other, the food, songs, dancing, games and all the other activities planned for that day.

Contact Andrew Wigger at 803-768-3122 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.

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