The Savannah African Art Museum (SAAM) is hosting a Juneteenth community celebration to honor the past and embrace the future from 12-4 p.m. Saturday, June 19 at the museum grounds located at 201 E. 37th St., Savannah. The event will include music, storytelling, art, tours, dance, crafts, and more. The event is free, as are all SAAM’s tours and workshops. Donations are welcomed and appreciated.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the abolishment of chattel slavery in the United States dating back to June 19,1865 when the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, as there were not enough Union troops in Texas to regulate and enforce its order. However, it was after General Robert Lee’s surrender in April 1865 and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to overcome the resistance of enslavers and all slaves were then set free on what became known as Freedom Day – Juneteenth.
The news was responded to with both shock and pure joy. The celebration was a time for praying, singing, storytelling by the elders about Africa, honoring the ancestors, gathering remaining family members, and seeking others on plantations far and near. Education, self-improvement, and empowerment were a top priority.
Activities such as rodeos and fishing were part of the celebration and so were foods such as barbeque, black eye peas, watermelon, cornbread, okra, hibiscus tea. Before long, the celebration spread to regions of the south including Georgia & South Carolina.
In the early years of Juneteenth, mainly African American communities participated in the festivities, often secretly in the woods. Sometimes there were interruptions of celebrations from white landowners, although some would give workers the day off or donate monetarily or with gifts. With every passing year, the annual commemoration flourished but there were declines in the early 1900s, also during the depression and the civil rights movement encountered both decline and resurgence. The celebration had a resurgence in the 1980s and has since grown with 47 states and the District of Columbia having all passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as either a state holiday or day of observance. More communities and organizations are coming together to foster awareness of African American history and culture.
“Juneteenth is a day of remembrance and a day of freedom that we must all commemorate and celebrate. Especially in light of the events of the past year, we must continue the fight for freedom and healing, but celebrate our victories together as a community,” said SAAM Founding Director and Chief Curator Billie Stultz. “We invite all to celebrate this important holiday with us at the Savannah African Art Museum through sharing of African art, dance, practices, storytelling, crafts, music and info/resources to empower the family – there will be something for all to enjoy!”
To learn more about the museum, upcoming workshops, and the museum’s newest collections, please visit www.savannahafricanartmuseum.org and follow SAAM on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @ SavannahAfricanArtMuseum.
SAAM is a nonprofit institution that introduces all audiences to African art and culture. Its mission is to provide engaging experiences that educate and start conversations about the power, diversity, and spirituality of African art.