Juneteenth Honors Black Ancestors’ Dream of Freedom, Relevant Today

Maxine L. Bryant, Ph.D.,
Maxine L. Bryant – For Savannah Morning News – (Source: www.savannahnow.com) – June 19 is Juneteenth, the oldest African-American holiday observance in the U.S. It is a celebration of “freedom” for Black Americans.

Can you imagine the jubilant joy of a people who had only known captivity?  Who were born into captivity – who’s parents and grandparents and great grandparents only knew captivity?  I recall a conversation between Kunta Kinte and Fiddler in the movie “Roots.”  Kunta, a newly enslaved African, was talking to Fiddler about freedom. However, freedom was a foreign concept to Fiddler, who had been born into slavery.  But, as he listened to Kunta’s ramblings about freedom and as he cleaned the wounds from Kunta’s brutally ripped back from the beating he received for refusing to acknowledge his slave name, Fiddler gained a fresh appreciation for “freedom.”

After 246 years of chattel slavery; after 246 years of building a country that was not their own; after 246 years of torture and chains and beatings and hangings and rape and castration and degradation and humiliation – to receive news of freedom, no doubt, elicited myriad emotions:  joy, fear, apprehension, distrust, excitement, gratefulness, etc.

Participants dance in the ocean as they celebrate during the annual Juneteeth Wade In on June 19, 2020, on Tybee Island. Juneteeth is a celebration of the day Union Soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, with the news that the war had ended and enslaved people were free.

What we can be sure of is that freedom was ever on the minds of people held in captivity for no reason other than the color of their skin.  We can also be sure that keeping Blacks enslaved was on the minds of many whites in power.  In fact, Abraham Lincoln wrote, “My paramount object is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.”

The news of freedom reached Savannah in December 1864 when Gen. Sherman’s army overtook the Confederate army and he gifted the City of Savannah to President Abraham Lincoln.  The good news of freedom reached the enslaved Blacks in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. This was three months after the Civil War ended with the surrender of the Confederate army in Northern Virginia in April 1865 and six months after Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery throughout the entire country (Anyike, 2007). That day is called Juneteenth as a combination of June and 19th.

Black Americans across the country celebrate Juneteenth with parades, parties, picnics, community gatherings and church services.

Participants of a  Juneteenth event, held at the Jepson Center For the Arts, walk up stairs.
Sankofa African Dance Troup will participate in the Juneteenth celebration June 19 at the Georgia Southern Armstrong Campus.

Once it became obvious that freedom was not theirs to have, captured Africans dreamt of freedom for their children and their children’s children and for generations to come.  Generations later, their descendants dreamt of freedom from Jim Crow laws and lynchings and Civil Rights infringement for themselves and for generations to come.

Generations later, their descendants now dream of freedom from mass incarceration, systemic racism, political oppression, and police brutality for themselves and for generations to come.

Since Blacks are still chasing the dream of freedom, some ask why celebrate something that has not come to fruition?  My answer?  We celebrate to honor the DREAM – the dream of freedom our ancestors had and the dream we still have today.

Maxine L. Bryant

Yes, true freedom for Black Americans is still a dream deferred.  Those of us living now must continue to dream of freedom for our future generations.  We must talk loud.  We must stir the crowd! We must pause to honor the DREAM on June 19 to remember the past so that it will not be repeated.  We must pause as active change agents in the present poised to be a part of an ongoing solution.  We must pause to give clarity to the vision and sound of Freedom that will reverberate through future generations.

Maxine L. Bryant, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, and interim assistant director, Center for Africana Studies, at Georgia Southern University, Armstrong Campus. Contact her at 912-344-3602 or email dr.maxinebryant@gmail.com. See more photos and columns by Maxine L. Bryant at SavannahNow.com/lifestyle/.


Jepson Center Juneteenth

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 12-13; Noon June 12, libation ceremony on front steps led by historians Vaughnette Goode-Walker and Jamal Toure; 6 p.m. June 15 virtual lecture, register: tinyurl.com/xw7vyfaj

Where: 207 W. York St.

Cost: free admission for Chatham County residents

Juneteenth at Georgia Southern

• Live on Armstrong Campus: 3:30-5:50 p.m. June 19.  Activities include the Saltwata Players, The Power of the Quilt presentation, poetry, Sankofa African Dance Troupe, and Jamal Toure’s African Spirit.  Sponsored by The Gullah Geechee Center and the Center for Africana Studies.

• Georgia Southern Zoom Gullah Geechee Cooking Class, by Master Chef Benjamin Dennis; 5:30 p.m. June 19. Persons attending the live event on the Armstrong Campus may watch the Zoom event in Solms Room 110.  To watch the Zoom Cooking Class on your own, register here: https://tinyurl.com/535nj83f.

• Georgia Southern College of Behavioral and Social Sciences social media educational campaign: Black Liberation, Resilience, and Excellence: Past, Present, and Future – through June 19 – contributions of  African American leaders, past, present, and future in academic fields, faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Georgia Southern. On social media:  @GaSouthernCBSS on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

TybeeMLK Juneteenth 

What: Annual Wade-in

When: 9:30-11:30 a.m.  June 19

Where: North Beach, Tybee Island

What: “Things Left Behind” African Art Exhibit

When: noon-6 p.m. June 19-20

Where: The Guard House, 13 Van Home Ave., Tybee Island

What: Juneteenth Art Festival

When: noon-8 p.m. June 19-20

Where: Tybee Pier & Pavilion

Source: TybeeMLK Human Rights Organization at Facebook Tybee MLK

Art show

What: “A Return To… Commemorating Juneteenth” curated by Alexis Javier.

When: noon-5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, through June 20

Where: Sulfur Studios, 2301 Bull St.;

Info: SulfurStudios.org.

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