Monday, June 15, 2009
This Friday is Juneteenth, an important day of remembrance nationally and around the world. It was on this day in 1885 that the last of the slaves held in Texas were told they were freed two years earlier by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. For some more information on the history scroll down to the June 4th post.
The fourth annual public commemoration of the day will be held in Diamond Park in Meadville from 1 pm to 7 pm., according to Melisa Burnett of the local NAACP Chapter. “A Community Celebration of Freedom” will focus on what has gone on before and and focus on the future of the freedom movement. There will be songs, dances, music and food and a lot of activities and educational events.
Some of the spiritual gospel music composed by Harry Burleigh, a native of the region, will be sung led by Angela Johnson and Charles Kennedy, president of the Burleigh Society, for more information on Burleigh and his life, click here. There will also be a public Ring Shout.
Ring Shout (pictured above) is a dance form which originated with slaves after they were forbidden to raised their feet a couple of inches from the ground. Ring Shout has two circles one inside the other, moving in separate directions. Each dancer can improvise their own dance movements.
Some of the dances have been recorded over time and one the most moving is “Run, Old Jeremiah”. Ring Shout is a powerful, defiant dance against evil, a dance of hope and freedom, a dance for America.
Northwestern Pennsylvania was a hotbed of the anti-slavery movement. The Underground Railroad, the largest mass civil disobedience movement in American history, rumbled constantly through the hills and fields of this region. John Brown lived in northwestern Pennsylvania and opearte a farm which is now a museum, well worth the trip.
A drive past any cemetery, large or small, at a four corners or forgotten farm, is a never to be forgotten view of seemingly countless GAR bronze plagues and American Flags. Thousands of northwestern Pennsylvanians died for the Union.
Largely rural and agricultural northwestern Pennsylvania, was a forerunner in many equality issues, African Americans, Women and Native peoples were public officer holders, voters, property owners and co-equal citizens long before other regions of the country. It is an amazing history of local civil rights.
Juneteenth celebrations are being held in areas across the country, as they have been for well over a hundred years, and are growing in popularity. If you can't make the Meadville celebration, or one in your area, spend some time and learn about the many fascinating issues and art forms that have evolved over time. Information is a powerful weapon against the hate and white supremacist groups in this country; no answers or justice are ever found in violence, so perhaps, Juneteenth is also a day to pray for one's enemies, both in the past and those to come.