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JAMESTOWN – Over the weekend, the city held its annual Juneteenth festival which also honored late Jamestown Councilwoman Victoria James.
Following the declaration of Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday, Councilwoman Regena Brackman celebrated at the weekend-long festival.
“It’s finally been recognized, after all these years, all the sacrifices that have been made from the people that were free from slavery and didn’t know it,” says Brackman. “Could you imagine being freed and not knowing you were freed?”
Alize Scott, community educator at YWCA Jamestown, gave a brief history of the date and the meaning it holds.
“Celebrating Juneteenth allows us to recognize the complex history surrounding slavery and freedom here in the United States,” says Scott. “Juneteenth combines the words ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth’ to recognize the day in 1865 when enslaved Texans in Galveston were informed that salvery was over. On that summer day in 1865, a full two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and over two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered, Mayor General Gordon Granger, commander of the U.S. Army’s Department of Texas delivered the news via General Order Number Three to perhaps the very last enslaved people to learn they were free.”
Scott further explained that the General Order stated, “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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military post and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
There are many explanations for the delay of the news including that the messenger sent to deliver the good news was murdered on the way, or that the news was deliberately withheld to maintain the enslaved population on plantations to gain another harvest season.
Regardless, this day in history was one full of disbelief and pure joy. Many former slaves moved to the North following the news since to them, it represented true freedom. Others stayed around their former plantations and went to neighboring states to reconnect with the families they had been forcefully separated from.
The celebration of this day served as a motivation and a release from pressures of the newly freed people’s reality.
Now, it also serves as a day of education and self-improvement.
Many traditional celebration aspects still remain such as food, dress, and prayer.
“Red hued foods and drinks were often served such as red velvet cake, red strawberry soda and red punch always making an appearance. With various stories of why this red color was important to the celebration. For a long time, relatives told young ones that the red color symbolized the blood of the millions of enslaved people that suffered and died. But the color red can also be traced back to our historical African roots as well. Red drinks at Juneteenth have links to the fruits of two native West African plants, the colona and hibiscus, which are used to create red hued drinks in the area. Red in many West African cultures is also a symbol of strength, spiritually, life and death.”
Juneteenth is also a reminder of the resiliency of the black community and counters the traditional point-of-view the history of slavery is often taught from.
On Saturday morning, two trees were planted in Victoria James’ memory at Jackson-Taylor Park, who is credited with organizing the festival for the past 20 years.
Additionally, a new scholarship in memory of James will include all of the proceeds from the festival’s concession stand.
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