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It Should Have Happened Sooner

Category: Uncategorized

On June 19, 1865, freedom came to the last slaveholding area in the South, Galveston, TX. It had been a long time coming since the Emancipation Proclamation was originally issued on September 22, 1862, and enacted January 1, 1863 by President Lincoln.During 1863 and 1864 regiments of Black troops were raised throughout the Union, and on April 14th, 1865 President Lincoln was fatally shot at Ford’s Theater. Though Lincoln declared Emancipation, he never saw it come to full fruition; that task was left to his Army, its ranks swelling with free Blacks. In the end, Freedom required 1800 Union Troops and their General to enforce the Proclamation in Texas. Even then, it took until December 18th of 1865 to ratify the 13th amendment officially abolishing slavery.

Middleton Place’s own Freedom Day came on February 22, 1865 – just a few days after the fall of Charleston[1]. Emancipation understandably took place on different days in different regions of the country, as the message was spread. But Juneteenth has come to symbolize all of those Freedom Days. As soon as one year after the last bastion of slavery in Texas fell, scores of people began to commemorate the day that could be collectively understood as the day that “All persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”[2]. It should have happened sooner.

We have finally been able to reach this point thanks to those who have been working tirelessly for Juneteenth awareness, and Middleton Place was fortunate to be able to host one of them for an afternoon of fellowship and sharing. Mrs. Opal Lee, the Grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday, visited Middleton Place on June 9th. She dispensed wisdom as only a 90-something year-old elder stateswoman could, she generously complimented the Carolina hospitality and she took photographs with every attendee who wished to say a word of thanks and encouragement. Mrs. Lee has spent much of her life on the crusade to have Juneteenth recognized, and she was joined by organizations like the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, and the local organization lead by Cedric Smalls and Latisha Manigault: Lowcountry Juneteenth

Rev. Demett Jenkins from the International African American Museum and Mr. Lee Bennett, historian for Mother Emanuel AME Church, interviewed Mrs. Lee for the enraptured guests. The speakers covered stories from Mrs. Lee’s childhood – including an anecdote in which Mrs. Lee’s mother compared Opal’s tenacity to that of Opal’s grandfather – absolute and unwavering! That tenacity, which Mrs. Lee cherishes as a familial inheritance, is what she credits with her stubbornness to see Juneteenth become a federal holiday. Mr. Bennett, in the course of his interview, mindfully communicated that no one is free, until we are all free – and reminded us that we are not yet all free. Promoting the cause of Juneteenth as a Freedom Day that the entire nation can look to; an appropriate (and long overdue) amendment to the patriotic spirit of Liberty represented by July 4, is a good and worthy cause, and one that Middleton Place Foundation stands fully behind.

We are honored to have hosted Mrs. Lee in this auspicious year that has seen the final recognition of Juneteenth across the nation. On Thursday June 17th, with the unanimous support of the Senate and the nearly unanimous support of the House, President Biden signed the law signifying Juneteenth as a federal holiday – the first since Martin Luther King Day was declared in 1983. Mrs. Lee’s vision has been accomplished, finally.

It was to plantations like Middleton Place that freedom came, and it was from here that people took their first steps of liberty. We are pleased to honor two Freedom Days, February 22, 1865, and June 19, 1865.

Juneteenth has become an important day of education at Middleton Place National Historic Landmark, and we hope that you will come and see the impact that the claim of freedom had for the enslaved who sought it from this place for so long. Saturday, June 19th will be a community day, and Middleton Place will offer half-price general admission to all residents of Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties. Discounted tickets must be purchased at the Visitors Center with ID. There will also be special programming throughout the day. Please click here to learn more: https://www.middletonplace.org/news-and-events/event/juneteenth/

 

 

[1] See MPF blog post from February to learn more about Emancipation at Middleton Place: https://www.middletonplace.org/news-and-events/february-23-1865-upheaval-and-freedom-come-to-middleton-place/

[2] Emancipation Proclamation text, President Abraham Lincoln.

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