Juneteenth: Celebrating and Honoring a Heritage
June 23, 2016
2016 Juneteenth celebration in Evanston

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth is a day of celebration or… jubilation. A day filled with: Entertainment, recreation, reflection on education and self-improvement, guest speakers and prayer services. A time where we recognize and honor our elders. . .and our youth.

But lets think back for a moment here and reflect on how Juneteenth came about. Imagine with me if you may:

June 19th, 1865. Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas with news for the community: The war had ended and that all who were enslaved are now free. Keep in mind that this news arrived two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.

Slavery was allowed in Southern Illinois

Union enforcement in Texas was negligible and was unable to enforce the Executive order until after the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and stronger Union forces arriving in Texas. Read to the people of Texas was General Order Number 3, which began with:

“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.”

The reactions to this news ranged from shock to immediate jubilation. With nowhere to go, former enslaved Blacks choices were few; remaining where they were or migrate to other parts of the country – as – free – people.

Many families migrated to the North Shore directly from the south and from Canada immediately after the Civil War. And to think, Illinois was almost a slave state. Before 1865, one could not really be a “free person of color” in Illinois as the Black Codes were in effect that kept a person of color as a registered indentured person. Slavery was allowed in Southern Illinois.1

Violetta Cullen delivering the speech
Violetta Cullen delivering the speech

I think about Maria Murray, Daniel Garnett and Hettie Corn before 1865- and other families that arrived shortly after the end of the Civil War –George Robinson, Nathan Branch, Andrew Scott of Evanston; The Mathews family in Lake Forest; the Calhoun family in Kenilworth; the Smith family in Wilmette; the Wilson family of Glencoe … Their struggles, life stories, tenacity and perseverance… and with luck… they lived and forged a new history as – free – people.

In this early history here on the north shore, these communities had:
Established five churches (and we celebrated)
Established Evanston Sanitarium – Hospital (and we celebrated)
Established Emerson Street YMCA (and we celebrated)

Early in our history on the north shore, this community had:
Fought Jim Crow (and we persevered)
Fought segregation (and we persevered)
Organized dozens of civic and social clubs to combat injustices and service our community (and we persevered)

Our local communities have accomplished much throughout its history on the North Shore. We have made history. And we should celebrate.

16-182-001So we celebrate Juneteenth, celebrating African American freedom, achievement, self-development and remember that we must show respect for all cultures. As Juneteenth celebrations continue across this nation, the events that have transpired back in 1865 in Texas, will not be forgotten. For all of our roots tie back to this fertile soil from which many were delivered to, worked on, built on, and we all should celebrate, a national day of pride that is embodied as Juneteenth.


Note: A public speech written by Shorefront staff for two separate Juneteenth community celebrations in 2015 delivered by Dino Robinson and in 2016 delivered by Violetta Cullen.
All photographs by Evanston Photographic Studios.

  1. Douglas Harper, “Slavery in the North” http://slavenorth.com/northwest.htm
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