Friday, June 21, 2013

Celebrate Juneteenth at Fort Negley on Saturday

Posted by on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Fort Negley is celebrating Juneteenth on Saturday, June 22nd. Ron Wynn at The Tennessee Tribune reports:

Since Fort Negley was mainly built and defended by Blacks during the Civil War, it’s a most appropriate location to hold a Juneteenth celebration. The “First Annual Juneteenth Celebration” on its grounds will be held June 22 from 10 a.m. — 3 p.m.

This event will combine a keynote address, children’s parade, commemorative reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and other family activities.

This looks like it's going to be awesome for families and history buffs alike. Along with the games and the food and the people in costume, they're also asking people to bring relevant Civil War artifacts, if they've got them, so this will be a great opportunity to hear our city's history through passed-down family stories.

I was curious about why Nashville is celebrating Juneteenth — the commemoration of the day enslaved people in Texas learned they'd been freed — and I found this really interesting article by Henry Louis Gates about the rise of Juneteenth as the day of national commemoration of Emancipation:

As is well-known, Martin Luther King Jr. had been planning a return to the site of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, this time to lead a Poor People’s March emphasizing nagging class inequalities. Following his assassination, it was left to others to carry out the plan, among them his best friend, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and his widow, Coretta Scott King. When it became clear that the Poor People’s March was falling short of its goals, the organizers decided to cut it short on June 19, 1968, well aware that it was now just over a century since the first Juneteenth celebration in Texas.

As William H. Wiggins Jr., a scholar of black folklore and cultural traditions, explained in a 2009 interview with Smithsonian magazine: “These delegates for the summer took that idea of the Juneteenth celebration back to their respective communities. For example, there was one in Milwaukee.” Another in Minnesota. It was, in effect, another great black migration. Since then, Wiggins added, Juneteenth “has taken on a life of its own.”

Long story short, the rise in prominence of Juneteenth as a national day of commemoration of Emancipation is intimately tied to the ongoing struggle for social justice in this country. And let's be honest: Historically, in Nashville, Emancipation celebrations were done on Jan. 1, which is a terrible time to hang out outside with your friends and neighbors. If only for the beautiful weather, it makes more sense to commemorate Emancipation in June.

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