SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Congress approved a bill to make June 19, referred to as Juneteenth, a federal holiday. President Biden signed it into law Thursday.
“Well, it’s a long time coming, but I’m very happy about it,” said Lisa Jackson, the education coordinator for the Savannah African Art Museum.
The museum has planned a celebration this Saturday to mark the date of June 19, 1865. While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed two years prior, not all enslaved receive the work.
“And it wasn’t just the fact that they didn’t get the word, yes, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 however, they did not have enough troops to get around to enforce it,” said Jackson. “And even those slaves that knew that they were freed, they did not have the ability to just walk off the plantation and act like freed men and women.”
In the years following the Civil War, freed slaves began to hold celebrations marking Juneteenth, often in the woods, so they would be left to themselves and not be in danger. In the past three decades or so, more cities and states (now 47) have recognized the day and marked it with celebrations.
“I think it’s a blessing,” says Edna Jackson, the former mayor of Savannah.
Jackson was the first African American female to ever serve as mayor. She was also part of the civil rights movement and in the 1960s, Jackson was arrested at Tybee Beach for entering the water, which, at the time, was illegal for African Americans to do.
“Juneteenth is a celebration that we should always remember,” said Jackson. “And I’m just happy that Savannah has been on the forefront of celebrating Juneteenth.”
“The city of Savannah began when a small group of people got together and they started gathering at the park on 37th Street between Montgomery and MLK Boulevard,” she said. “Now it’s almost all the way out in all the municipalities, and Savannah people led the way.”
The Savannah African Art Museum will be holding events to mark Juneteenth from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Jackson says for those who have been marking the day, there will be new opportunities to learn about art from Western Africa, where most slaves came from. There will also be opportunities to learn more about how to trace their roots.
Jackson also hopes for those that have not been marking the day, that this is an opportunity to learn more about its origin.
“Anyone that is against slavery, anyone that wants to know the truth about history should want to celebrate it,” she said.