In 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But word had yet to reach Texas, and slaves still worked plantations.
On Juneteenth, two years later, slaves were finally freed from their posts.
“Independence Day for America, on July 4, doesn’t really apply,” said Melody Barham, graduate assistant at the Neal Marshall Black Culture Center. “For me, as an African American, it’s my effective Independence Day.”
Referred to as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day or, most commonly, Juneteenth, the holiday celebrates black heritage and culture.
Every year the Neal Marshall Center sponsors an honorary event. Though past years have included parades and crowds, a simple dinner and about 40 guests Friday honored freedom for all. The theme “Carrying the Lessons of the Past into the Future: What Does it Mean to be Free?” was recognized with a slideshow, lecture and reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Throughout the years there’s been a lot of talk about it being a post-racial society, but I think that’s impossible. I think race plays a role in every facet of society,” graduate student Cameron Harris said. “So, to be better equipped to handle the U.S. and the world, we have to better understand the experiences of those who came before us.”
Bloomington resident Al Manns said he’d been attending the event since its inception 14 years ago for that exact reason.
“Now, we can go through life in American society and have equal opportunity for all,” he said. “We finally learned the meanings of the words ‘equality’ and ‘free.’”
Bloomington resident Sachiko Kante started the event to celebrate not just Juneteenth, but also black heritage. She attended the event with her two grandchildren, Rey and Jrue Kante.
The kids took turns sitting on her lap and eating hot dogs from the buffet.
Much of the dinner — the red punch and the rice — was symbolic.
“The meal is really important because it represents some of the foods the slaves traditionally ate,” said Dr. Stephanie Powell-Carter, director of Neal Marshall. “We do this, all of this, in commemoration of the slaves being free.”
Folded Emancipation Proclamations and people dressed in traditional African garb attended the dinner.
Manns’ pastor, and two generations of family, sat with him.
Manns said he’s made his family attend every year because “if you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.”
He already has plans to attend in 2013.
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