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Celebrate Freedom!

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Friday, June 16, 2023

This sketch by Thomas Nast appeared in the January 24, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly. In this illustration the artist refects on the recently emancipated slaves and on their past and future. His thoughts were put to paper following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.


However, many enslaved persons did not hear the news of freedom in a timely manner.

Not until June 19, 1865 did the enslaved in Texas finally learn that they were free – 2 ½ years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation! Combining two segments of the date – June and 19th – the day became known as Juneteenth - as well as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day. For years Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas and other communities across the nation. In 2021 President Biden made the celebration official: signing the bill on June 17 of that year and declaring June 19th - or Juneteenth – a federal holiday. Certainly, a day for celebration – the date deemed the official end of slavery in this country.


Juneteenth weekend is rapidly approaching. Many organizations in the DC area have planned special events in honor of our newest federal holiday, a celebration of freedom. Here we highlight just a few.


Walk with Lincoln. Our Lincoln Group, of course, is among the organizations planning to commemorate the day. Lincoln Group member and tour guide, Craig Howell, has designed a Juneteenth walking tour entitled “Lincoln’s Road to Juneteenth.” Travel with Craig from the Capitol to the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park. Expect an interesting narrative as well as food for thought. (More information on this event is contained on this website in a June 5 news blog.)


View the Actual Documents. No celebration of Juneteenth would be complete without a focus on the documents of freedom themselves – the Emancipation Proclamation and General Order No. 3. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The document – a war measure against the rebellion – also accepted Black men into military service. The general order brought the news of freedom - and the Emancipation Proclamation - to those enslaved in Texas.


During Juneteenth weekend both documents will be on display at the National Archives.


Traditionally, for preservation purposes, the Archives places some of its most treasured documents on display for only limited periods of time and special occasions. Such has been the case for the Emancipation Proclamation which because of its fragility can only see 36 hours of sunlight per year. In the past the document often made its annual appearance in conjunction with its new year’s anniversary. With the advent of Juneteenth, that schedule has changed and General Order No. 3 has been included in the Archives’ display of freedom.


The Archives now is inviting the public to what amounts to a double-feature – both documents will be displayed on Juneteenth weekend, from June 17 - 19. During this period the museum will be open for extended hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Timed-ticket entry is available for the viewing but not required.


And that is just the beginning. The Archives is sponsoring other freedom-related activities including a family-day program on June 17 in the Archives’ Boeing Learning Center. The event will feature art-making activities as well as discussion of Arlington’s Freedman’s Village. Running from 10 am to 2:30 p.m., the event is free and requires no registration. In addition, an online program telling the story of William Still – “Father” of the Underground Railroad will take place on Wednesday, June 21. For more information on these events, check https://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2023/nr23-37.


Explore Lincoln’s Decision. President Lincoln’s Cottage also will present a special Juneteenth program. A guided tour of the Cottage will be followed by an interactive program, “Lincoln’s Toughest Decisions.” This program is rarely open to the public. Primary sources related to a specific historical person will be used by participants to explore prevalent perspectives on emancipation during the 1960s. The event will be held at the Cottage on June 19 from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Registration required. See "events" on the Cottage’s website.


Learn about the Holiday While at Home or Wherever. The National African American Museum of History and Culture website (https://nmaahc.si.edu) is loaded with Juneteenth history and culture. Here you can explore the history of the "day of freedom" as well as related cultural aspects including music and food. Look for the entry on Juneteenth programming under "recent news" on the website – there you'll find another link which will lead you to a webpage devoted to the holiday.


Frederick Douglass - Up Close and Personal. Just in time for Juneteenth the National Portrait Gallery is opening “One Life: Frederick Douglass;” an exhibit that will begin June 16 and run through April 24, 2024. Prints, photographs and ephemera will celebrate the life of this historic giant. And, remember, when you visit this exhibit, stop by if you haven’t already, to see the life-size painting of President Abraham Lincoln by artist W.F.K Travers.


Most, if not all, local communities in DC and throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland will be holding Juneteenth events - walks, parades, music, food, festivals, savenger hunts, even a marathon - at historic sites (at Mount Vernon, no less; a reading of names at the African American Civil War Monument), community centers and public parks. If interested, check out your usual online sources to find what's happening in your neighborhood. And...


If none of these events, catch your fancy – just take a few moments during the day to contemplate the meaning of our newest federal holiday.



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