Wednesday, June 13, 2012


An email from the Douglasville Convention and Visitor's Bureau rolled across my email screen earlier this week.   It said, “Join in the Juneteenth Celebration featuring entertainment, culture, and fun for the entire family!”

The celebration will occur this Friday and Saturday…..June 15-16…. in downtown Douglasville and is sponsored by the Black Education Historical Exhibit or BEHE.

An opening reception will be held Friday evening, June 15 at the Downtown Conference Center at 6:15 p.m. featuring Tuskegee Airman John Stewart.   Tickets are $10 each and can be obtained at the Douglasville Welcome Center.

Look for entertainment, arts & craft vendors, children’s activities, health screenings, senior bingo and more at O’Neal Plaza this Saturday….June 16th.  The event is free and open to the public.

You can find out more about Douglasville’s Juneteenth Celebration at the official website.

But many may be asking….exactly what is Juneteenth?

The day is actually recognized as a state holiday or observance in 41 states…including Georgia.

The Juneteenth website states, “Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.   From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as … Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. “

Place the words June for the month and nineteenth for the date together and you come up with the name “Juneteenth”.

Of course, if you dig down deep and attempt to recall what you were taught regarding the Civil War in school you know Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862.   The proclamation was an executive order that proclaimed those who were living under slavery in the states considered to be in rebellion were free.  

The Proclamation went into effect January, 1863 but for most of the slaves in the South there was little difference in their life.   Though many knew about the proclamation and many were given their freedom there were many more who didn’t know about it across the Confederacy.

Close to 2,000 federal troops reached Galveston, Texas on June 18, 1865.  The story goes that General Gordon Granger stood on the steps of Galveston’s Ashton Villa and read the contents of the Emancipation Proclamation and the celebration that began afterward is considered the first official Juneteenth.

Why are we worried about slavery and celebrating something like Juneteenth when Douglas County and Douglasville were created in the 1870s…..after the Civil War?   

Someone has actually said to me, ”There were no slaves here, so what’s the point with any sort of celebration?”

I will agree that slavery was no longer an institution when the City of Douglasville formed in 1875 just as it had ended in 1870 when Douglas County was formed, however, Douglas County didn’t appear as if by magic….it was created from an already existing jurisdiction.   

We have to look towards the former Campbell County to get direction regarding slavery in this area.   The land falling within Douglas Country’s borders today was once part of Campbell County.   The 1840 census for Campbell County indicates a total population of 5,372 with 842 of those listed as slaves.  

An entry from the Empire State….a newspaper in Spalding County…..for January 16, 1856 discusses one of Robert Jackson’s runaway slaves from Palmetto.    Mr. Jackson is offering $70 reward stating that the runaway slave named Phillip had frequently been in the counties of Carroll and Campbell without consent of his owner, with a forged pass.

I can’t help but wonder if Phillip had loved one he was willing to risk his life for in order to see time and time again.

This link shares a will written by Gideon Whitted who lived in Campbell County and left his slaves to various family members.   Mr. Whitted leaves his daughter Mary Gwynn a certain slave by the name of Peter….another daughter, Jemima King received two slaves…..a girl named Jinny about eight years old, and a boy by the name of Henry about nine years old.

When I was still in the classroom I taught eight, nine and ten year old children.   I can’t imagine any of my former students being willed to another human being…..never to have any formal education…..never to have the right to aspire to be anything other than a slave.

Men such as Judge Bowden, and Ezekiel Polk lived in parts of Campbell County that would become Douglas County, and they both owned slaves.  Many citizens of Douglas County today can claim some of those very slaves as their ancestors.

I’m not sure about you but it has always given me pause to read how humans were treated as property, tracked like animals, and actually inherited like furniture or farm equipment. 
I welcome a day to recognize the emancipation of slaves in the United States.   I welcome a day to celebrate and educate.

Slavery existed and it most certainly was a part of Douglas County’s history making  a Juneteeth recognition not only appropriate, but necessary!

Happy Juneteenth!

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