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[VA] Free At Last

Free at Last
Black History Museum celebrates day of freedom that came 2 and a half years late.
By John Teschner/Gazette
June 7, 2006

The slaves in Texas had been free for two and a half years, but they didn't know it. Surrounded by Confederate soldiers and geographically isolated, news of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 did not reach black people in Texas until two months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston on June 19, 1865 and immediately proclaimed the slaves' back-dated freedom.
The celebration that followed the announcement was reenacted every year in Texas, eventually becoming known as Juneteenth. After cycles of popularity and decline, the festivity has experienced a resurgence across the country, adopted beyond the borders of Texas (the only state where it is an official holiday) as a day to celebrate the freedom of all black Americans.
On June 17, Alexandria's Black History Museum will be celebrating Juneteenth for the 13th year in a row. The event will be hosted by the Charles Houston Recreation Center on the 900 block of Wythe Street and the Black History Museum across from it. Performers like Stephen Samuel Soothing Caribbean Sounds, the Singing Angels gospel choir, the D.C. Blues Society Band and East Coast Connection will play music throughout the day. Children will have the chance to play games and make crafts. An oral history project will be housed in the museum's library.

Organizers described the Juneteenth Celebration as an opportunity for black Americans to take ownership of a day that truly marks their independence, from slavery at least. Museum volunteer Randy Stevens helped organize the city's first celebration. "We as black people celebrate the 4th of July, which did not actually free us," Stevens explained.

"The same people who penned the Declaration of Independence considered us at the time to be two-thirds of a person."
But Stevens added the event is more than a party, or a protest. "It's an educational project as well."

The festival will present a lecture on "Africa's Gifts to the World," an introductory workshop on the West African language Yoruba, a workshop on researching family genealogy and a lecture on the African origins of African-American foods.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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