On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing southern slaves held captive in Confederate states. However, many of the captives did not get the memo. Texans managed to hide their slaves deep in the state, and even slave owners from other states took their slaves to Texas to hide them until the end of the Civil War, assuming The Confederate States of America would be victorious. Instead, the south lost the war, and on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger rode to Texas with his troops to announce that all slaves were free.
Thus marks the beginning of Juneteenth —the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the abolishment of chattel slavery in the U.S., dating back to June 19,1865.
Today, Juneteenth is still celebrated in recognition of that day 156-years ago. The celebration has grown with 47 states and the District of Columbia passing legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance.
Below are a few ways that Savannah is celebrating Juneteenth:
Jepson Center for the Arts
The Jepson Center will kick off the Juneteenth festivities on Saturday and Sunday, June 12 and 13, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. by admitting Savannah and Chatham County residents into the museum for free.
“As we mark Emancipation Day, we’re excited to welcome respected historians and the public to come together to reflect upon, share, and honor the unique history of our city and our region,” said Jason Kendall, Telfair’s public relations director.
Over the weekend, activity kits focusing on the Black experience and themes related to current exhibitions at the Jepson Center, as well as works by Savannah artist Sauda Mitchell, will be distributed. The weekend will also be highlighted with a libation ceremony at noon on Saturday lead by local historians Vaughnette Goode-Walker and Jamal Toure.
“A libation ceremony draws from common historical, spiritual practices shared across many African cultures. It’s an offering to ancestors, an opportunity to honor and reflect on those who came before and to make an honored place for them and acknowledge their existence, their rights, and their unique histories,” Kendall said. “And it’s also a celebration and invitation to be in harmony with one another and the world around us.”
Telfair hosted its annual Juneteenth lecture June 15 with a virtual appearance by historian and author Anthony Cohen, whose book “Patrick & Me” chronicles his journey as a fourth-generation descendant of an enslaved man who escaped to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
Savannah African Arts Museum
The Savannah African Art Museum is hosting a Juneteenth community celebration on June 19 from noon-4 p.m.at the museum grounds located at 201 E. 37th St in downtown Savannah.
Founding Director and Chief Curator Billie Stultz said, “Juneteenth is a day of remembrance and a day of freedom that we must all commemorate and celebrate. Especially in light of the events of the past year, we must continue the fight for freedom and healing, but celebrate our victories together as a community. We invite all to celebrate this important holiday with us at the Savannah African Art Museum through sharing of African art, dance, practices, storytelling, crafts, music and info/resources to empower the family — there will be something for all to enjoy.”
For the sixth year, Tybee Island Beach hosts its Juneteenth Community Wade In which will be held on June 19th from 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Participants are asked to meet at North Beach Grill by 9 a.m.
‘Things Left Behind’ —an African Art Exhibit in honor of Juneteenth Wade In—will be on view on June 19 and June 20 from noon–6 p.m. at the Tybee Guard House at 31 Van Horne Ave.
Lastly, the Juneteenth Arts Festival will take place on June 19 and June 20 from noon–8 p.m. at the Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion.
The Culturist Union
The Culturist Union, Savannah’s first-of-its-kind and only Black-owned coffee house and artisan marketplace to open at 702 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. released it aims “to bring back a new normalcy for Juneteenth” by hosting events throughout the month.
On June 13, TCU hosted yoga at Lake Mayer Park lead by radio personality Lady Mahogany.
On June 29, TCU in conjunction with Eden Supper Club will host a cocktail, fundraiser dinner at Ardsley Station from 5 p.m.- 8 p.m.
Editor’s note: Beth Stewart contributed to this article.