Juneteenth ceremony celebrates end of U.S. slavery

Posted June 19, 2009, at 8:29 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Friday’s rain prevented the Juneteenth ceremony from being held outside at the Joshua Chamberlain Freedom Park, but didn’t dampen the ceremony that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

Community leaders and a small gathering of residents gathered inside the Brewer Auditorium for the Juneteenth ceremony.

While most people are under the impression that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed on Jan. 1, 1863, marked the end of slavery, the truth is it freed slaves only in areas of rebellion, but allowed slavery to continue in other states including Texas.

Slavery was finally abolished when the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted on Dec. 6, 1865, nearly three years later.

June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the South had surrendered two months earlier ending the war, and that the slaves in that area were free, is the real end of slavery, James Varner said during Friday’s event.

That day is now celebrated annually and is called Juneteenth.

“It was the day when people who looked like me became free,” Varner, who is black, said before the ceremony.

The holiday, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, has been celebrated at Joshua Chamberlain Freedom Park in Brewer for the past four years, and state Rep. Michael Celli of Brewer said he hopes the event continues and grows into a festival with music and soul food.

Mayor Arthur “Archie” Verow was on hand Friday to read a proclamation declaring June 19 “Juneteenth Celebration Day” and representatives from U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, read statements.

“Today, it is with great pride that we look back 144 years to June 19, 1865, and the arrival of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops to Galveston, Texas, where under ‘General Order No. 3’ he declared that slavery had been abolished,” Snowe said in the statement.

General Order No. 3, the presidential proclamation read by Granger, states:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Collins, in her statement, said the United States has changed tremendously in the last century and a half.

“African Americans are a prominent part of our country,” she stated. “People of color are now members of all branches of our government … [including] our newly elected president, Barack Obama.”

Michaud said 31 states and the District of Columbia officially recognize the importance of Juneteenth.

“On this day in 1865, General Granger delivered a promise — a promise that was fulfilled on Dec. 6 of the same year when the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, effectively marking June 19, 1865, as the end of American slavery,” he stated.

The reaction to Granger’s news “ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation,” the Juneteenth.com Web site states.

Varney, who created the Maine Human Rights Coalition Inc. two years ago to fight discrimination, said the group would start a petition this year to make Juneteenth an official holiday in Maine.

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