BREWER, Maine — Bangor’s 93-year-old Mary Hunter remembers growing up singing both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which nearly a century ago the NAACP called “The Negro National Anthem.”
The small woman sang the latter a capella at Monday’s Juneteenth Celebration, the 12th annual gathering at Chamberlain Freedom Park in Brewer to mark the end of slavery in the United States.
Brewer Mayor Kevin O’Connell said the commemorative day honors the American desire “to recognize a wrong and make it right.”
It also “truly acknowledges a period in our history that still shapes our country today,” the mayor said later, standing just up the hill from a statue of a slave emerging from an Underground Railroad tunnel.
Some Brewer residents have contended that the Underground Railroad, a network of escape routes for slaves seeking freedom, extended to Brewer, but no evidence of that has been confirmed.
While most people are under the impression that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, marked the end of slavery, the truth is that it freed slaves only in areas of rebellion, but allowed slavery to continue in other states.
And even in some places covered by the proclamation, word spread very slowly. Texas was part of the Confederacy. The war ended in April 1865, but it wasn’t until June 19 that a Union commander announced in Galveston, Texas, that the slaves in that area were now free.
And so June 19 — or Juneteenth — became known as as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.
Slavery was completely abolished in the United Stated when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865.
Event organizer James Varner, who created the Maine Human Rights Coalition in 2007, called on attendees to spread love and acceptance for those with different religions, sexual orientations, cultures, beliefs and skin color.
“I can honestly say that I am happy to live in a day and age of freedom,” Marlon Weaver, a member of the Mason’s lodge North Star No. 22 in Bangor, said at the gathering. “The diversity represented today means we’ve overcome the obstacles.”
He added, “This wasn’t accomplished by one person. All cultures, all religions worked together to make it happen.”
Varner said while progress has been made over the last 152 years, more work needs to be done.
He led a moment of silence for Black Lives Matter and then sang a song he had written that declared, “The answer to the problem now is you and me.”
Hunter ended her presentation by singing a verse from “Go Down, Moses,” which contains the timeless plea, “Let my people go.”