Surry reflects on significance of Juneteenth during special celebration

By Michael Campbell, News Editor
June 29, 2017 | 12:00 p.m.

SURRY – History is something that Surry has always been intimately connected to buildings in the county stand as reflections on the moments in time that made Surry what it is today.

This month, residents from near and far made their way to the Surry Community Center for the celebration of a key time in African-American history here in the United States, the celebration of Juneteenth.

The event, entering its third year, was hosted by the Surry County African-American Heritage Society and served to reflect on the 154th anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States.

The roots of Juneteenth go back to 1865 when, on June 19 of that year, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free men and women. That news reached Galveston nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had become official in January of 1863.

According to the Juneteenth Worldwide Celebration website, the Proclamation had little impact on Texas because of the lack of Union troops in the state to enforce the executive order. Following the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in Appomattox, about 130 miles from Surry, and the advancement of Union soldiers led by General Gordon Granger helped overcome the resistance to the president’s order.

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” General Order Number 3 stated. “This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Jacqueline Johnson, Surry Public Schools teacher and a member of the Surry African-American Heritage Society spoke to the importance of celebrating a key point in African-American history.

“We want to share the history,” Johnson said. “Everyone knows about the Emancipation Proclamation that is taught in history class, but it’s rare that people know, by the time word finally got to Texas, it was almost three years after Lincoln had written the Emancipation Proclamation.”

“Doing events like this is an opportunity to provide our children to get that little piece of history that is not always included in the history books.”

Over a century-and-a-half later, questions remain as to why the words of the Emancipation Proclamation was so delayed in reaching Texas, yielding several versions of events.

“Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom,” officials with the Juneteenth Worldwide Celebration said. “Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.”

A new component of this year’s Juneteenth celebration was a special art event that allowed the county’s art students to portray their interpretation of the holiday, with Johnson, a history lover herself, explaining the history and significance to students before they took to the medium of their choice to create a piece that was displayed at this month’s celebration.

“I am a firm believer that our children need to know their history,” she said. “We teach them history but we rarely give them the chance to let them show us how they feel about history so this allows them to express how they felt about what had been shared with them about Juneteenth.”

Among the pieces on display created by L.P. Jackson’s 5th through 8th graders, first prize was given to Jude Sperry.

This event serves as a fundraiser for the society, who also hosts other events throughout the year, including a Black History Month program held at the community center, along with the Taste of Surry, which brings the community together to share and have their favorite family recipes published in a cookbook

Next year, Johnson said she hopes to expand the art project to include Surry High School art students, as well, allowing them the chance to express their thoughts on Juneteenth on the canvas or sketchpad.

“All this is about teaching the African-American history that isn’t in the history books,” Johnson said. “We want to also be an avenue for people to see that it’s not African-American history, it’s all of our histories.”

“We need to know our history so we can share it with the world,” she closed.

Juneteenth was recognized both locally and nationally, with area representatives remarking on the day this month.

“On this Juneteenth, let us honor our forebears who sacrificed their lives for freedom and dignity. Let us draw inspiration from their strength, hope, and faith in the triumph of the human spirit, and continue their work to build a more perfect union,” said State Senator Jennifer McClellan.

To learn more, visit the Surry County African-American Heritage Society at their Facebook page.

Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing
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