Jeffersonville library hosts Juneteenth history talk | News

JEFFERSONVILLE — “Freedom was different for different people. It was a gradual process,” said Vincent Thomas, computer lab and training specialist at Jeffersonville Public Library on Saturday.

June 19, 1865 marked one of those days in US history that added to the gradual freedom of African Americans in the country.

Thomas informed a small crowd in the Jeffersonville Public Library of the history of Juneteenth and the ways in which it is celebrated.

This year will be the first time that Thomas and his family officially celebrate Juneteenth, though the holiday has been celebrated in different parts of the country since 1866.

“We would get together for July 4th but now having this information it’s just very important that I get the word out,” Thomas said.

Even celebrating the July 4, Thomas noted that many of the traditions derived from those of Juneteenth celebrations.

While the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 abolished slavery in states that had seceded from the Union, it did not free individuals enslaved in the border states, those that were not a part of the confederacy or union.

Kentucky remained one of the border states.

Thomas shared a 1852 quote from Frederick Douglass on July 4 where he stated: “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. ”

In 1865, a group of federal troops entered Galveston, Texas and declared by executive decree that over 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas were to be freed, Thomas said, marking Juneteenth.

As a part of a presentation on the history of Juneteenth, Vincent Thomas, computer lab and training specialist at Jeffersonville Public Library, shared an excerpt from the executive decree declared on June 19, 1865.

The decree stated that all slaves are free and “this involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

Slavery was not abolished for the entire of the United States until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December of 1865, seven months after the decree was declared.

Though slavery was made illegal, Thomas pointed out that people were enslaved into the 20th century.

“We have this idea that slavery was so long ago but it has happened so recently,” Thomas said.

The year following the decree, in Galveston, people gathered to celebrate the freedom Black people were finally given from slavery. Thomas said the celebration included singing, prayers, the reading of scriptures, instrumentation and barbecuing.

He also noted that people at the celebrations would wear white, to symbolize purity and joy.

Juneteenth has remained a holiday since then, though it did not become a federal holiday until 2021. People today celebrate the historical event much in the same way, with food, singing and prayer.

The day is more of an ancestral holiday, in Thomas’s opinion, where they just want to have a good day honoring those ancestors by being free.

In response to non-Black people wondering if it is okay to celebrate Juneteenth, Thomas said, “If you celebrate July 4th, why would it not be okay for you to celebrate Juneteenth? You’re celebrating freedom, real freedom.”

He just noted that people need to celebrate the holiday with authenticity, integrity and reverence.

“Have a great time, just take a moment and really think about those who came before us and the sacrifices that they made and the struggles that they went through for us to have a great time,” Thomas said.

One way to not celebrate Juneteenth though, is to contribute to exploitation of Black people and Black brands, he continued.

He shared a photo of a Walmart-brand “Juneteenth-flavored” ice cream. Thomas said he read that the flavor of ice cream was the same of a Black-owned company, and Walmart chose to copy the flavor rather than promote the brand that created it.

“Amplify the people who you want to celebrate,” he said

Thomas and Diane Stepro, genealogy and local history librarian in Jeffersonville, also shared information about notable individuals of Southern Indiana that escaped slavery, including Robert Stewart, Reuben and Francis Meaux and George and Mollie Denning.

While the only Juneteenth celebration hosted by the library this year was the presentation, next year the library is working on something bigger. Thomas said they are planning to do a cookout next year for Juneteenth in the parking lot or a nearby park.


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