Celebrating Juneteenth

Today at Brattonsville, we held our first ever Juneteenth Celebration. At first I had a few people come up to me and tell me we should do this because it had never been done in Rock Hill. Well, that wasn’t true but that didn’t stop us from creating a program that would not only show visitors what Juneteenth was, but they would get to know more about the celebration and why freedom was a valued yet frightening time.

I started our presentations by telling the visitors where Juneteenth comes from. Most folks will assume that since the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862 and to take effect in 1863 that all slaves were immediately freed and well, that’s just not how it happened. The last slaves out in Galveston, Texas, were notified of their freedom around June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger took possession of the state of Texas and enforced emancipation.  Thus the day has been synonymous with Juneteenth Celebrations that bring the African American community together for a time of reflection, to look ahead at self improvement and to discuss the values of education. There was also food involved, barbeques that ensured you would be satisfied when you left, and fishing and baseball and just a sense of community and celebration. GREAT TIMES!

The visitors were treated to history about the Bratton slaves and their descendants by one of their own. It was great to hear Mr. Wally Cathcart talk about his family history and provide the visitors with pictures of his Uncle Dan who was listed among the Freedmen at Brattonsville in 1865. Dan was a young child at the time the war ended and you could feel the immense pride that Mr. Cathcart has when talking about his family as he should. One of our volunteers asked him how he, as a descendant felt about the interpretation of slave life, and Mr. Cathcart said that it’s a proud moment for him because he sees his ancestors and survivors and to interpret their life and to discuss the legacy they left brings him joy. You can’t help but love that.

Visitors were excited to hear that there was an event that celebrated freedom but most asked what did these newly freedmen and women do? Did they stay? Did they leave? How did they survive? What happened next? And it was great having engaging conversations with the visitors that helped answer their questions and create dialogue  with the interpreters, but it also allowed the visitors to really engage in conversation with each other. You had complete strangers connecting and really understanding the spirit of Juneteenth and having a great time enjoying history. The interpretation of the enslaved isn’t all heavy material. There is joy that is found amongst the people, and today proved it. And it was just another day that affirmed my love for the career I have chosen.

Oh and yes, we did have food…and it was good. Barbequed pork butt, coleslaw and fresh berries and cream….all types of tastiness there. And strawberry soda! Yum. To learn more about Juneteenth, click here!


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