Over two months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox, slaves in Texas were the last to hear about the Emancipation Proclamation, made by Abraham Lincoln two years before.
On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on Galveston Island to enforce the emancipation of its slaves, who rejoiced in the streets after hearing the news.
For many, June 19 since has become known as Juneteenth, a celebration of freedom. Juneteenth is celebrated in a variety of ways in a variety of communities. Now Savannah can be added to the list.
The Telfair Museum of Art will hold a week-long Juneteenth Celebration June 9-14, and each event is free and open to the public. The celebration is being organized by Vaughnette Goode-Walker, interpretative project manager at the Telfair’s Owens-Thomas House, in conjunction with the house’s reinterpretation project.
Goode-Walker is working to incorporate the African Americans who once lived and worked at the Owens-Thomas House. “We want to commemorate the people who lived in 1870 at the Owens-Thomas House, at least the enslaved people who were still there,” she says.
Other events include: An African American genealogy workshop led by Dr. Barnetta McGee White June 7 from 6-8 p.m. at the Second African Baptist Church, 123 Houston St. on Greene Square; an Andrew C. Marshall Walking Tour exploring urban slavery in the 19th-century, June 10 at 10 a.m. (it’s free, but call 790-8880 for reservations); and the Wanderer Walking Tour, telling the story of the slave ship, Wanderer, used to illegally bring slaves to this country in defiance of federal laws (that tour leaves June 11 at 10 a.m. from the Owens-Thomas House and also requires prior reservations).
June 13 at 6 p.m., The Ebony Hillbillies will perform at Telfair’s Jepson Center for the Arts. “They are one of the few contemporary African-American string bands in existence,” Goode-Walker says.
The grand finale will be held June 14 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with Juneteenth Celebration Family Day at the Owens-Thomas House. “The activities will include a libation ceremony and prayer in Oglethorpe Square,” she says. “We’re going to close a portion of President Street and have a tent with activities for young people.”
The Ebony Hillbillies will return to give a music demonstration, storytellers will be on hand to weave tales, and there will be performances by the African Tall Spirit Stilt Walkers. Free tours of the Owens-Thomas House will be offered, and there will be a reenactment of a “Jumping the Broom” ceremony, or wedding ceremony.
“I would love to have a real wedding performed that day,” Goode-Walker says. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone who would do it.
Harry DeLorme, the Telfair’s Senior Curator of Education, says the Juneteenth Celebration provides an important opportunity for the Telfair.
“The Owens-Thomas House has been undergoing a couple years of planning and preparation, testing of programs and looking at providing a more complete tour of the site,” he says. “The house has the only surviving urban slave quarters on view to public.”
Imani Mtendaji will tell stories at the Family Day event. “I hope people will take away an appreciation of the hardships suffered by people of African descent then and how they’ve been able to rise above the ills of slavery.”