North Charleston celebrates Juneteenth
Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Sept. 22, 1862, slaveholders in East Texas refused to acknowledge that their slaves were freed men, so the information wasn’t widely communicated.
On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the 10 Confederate states that had rebelled against the United States. Although it had taken effect in early 1863, word of the proclamation did not reach some slaves in Texas until 2½ years later. Union Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 troops were sent to Galveston, Texas, to enforce the slaves’ new freedom. In the business district, on June 19, 1865, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
Previous versions of this story contained an error about the number of states in which the Emancipation Proclamation had effect. The Post and Courier regrets the error.
It wasn’t until 2½ years later, on June 19, 1865, that the news finally reached the slaves.
“During the Civil War era, they didn’t have email or telephones to tell somebody what was going on,” said Fred Jones, treasurer of the Lowcountry Juneteenth Association. “Even the newspaper, that was kind of slow.”
This day in history has since been commemorated every year with a celebration known as Juneteenth, the oldest known national celebration of the end of slavery and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth is about emancipation, but more about the breakthrough after “the lack of communication,” Jones said.
The Lowcountry Juneteenth Association held its 15th annual Juneteenth Freedom Festival Saturday at the Jenkins Orphanage in North Charleston. The event was co-sponsored by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and the Association for the Study of African American Life & History.
South Carolina has become the 28th state of 42 states to adopt permanent recognition of Juneteenth.
This year’s festival saw a lesser turnout than usual as people came and left the festival to escape the heat, according to Ethel Taylor, president of the Lowcountry Juneteenth Association.
This year marks the second time that the festival was held at the historic orphanage.
“We originally held it at Hampton Park, but there was no parking for people who attended,” Taylor said.
Jones gave the welcoming speech, inviting audiences to join him in performing a Swahili fist pump.
“A bit of Swahili and Western African culture comes along with the Juneteenth celebration,” Jones said. “We try to intermingle it with today’s culture.”
Following Jones’ welcome and a singing of the Negro National Anthem, Faida Whitaker-Mfomboutmoun of Columbia performed a libation ceremony.
“Libation is where you recognize God first and then people who are no longer here, people who have passed on and made an impact on someone’s life,” she said. “You take water and you pour it back to Earth and you say ‘this drink is for you’ and you call their name.”
Whitaker-Mfomboutmoun’s mother used to perform the libation ceremony for the festival until she died last year.
Organizations that regularly affiliate with the Lowcountry Juneteenth Association, like the Tri-county Black Nurses Association and the My Sister’s House organization, stationed vendors at the event.
Attendees participated in a variety of activities, from storytelling to live music.
Young dancers from Nia Productions entertained participants by dancing to the rhythm of African drummers.
“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of local and sometimes national talents, different occupations and entertainment that come out and celebrate Juneteenth with us,” Jones said.
Reach Tyler Simpson at 937-5925 or @tylersimpsonmix on Twitter.