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History, heritage intertwine at Juneteenth celebration

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Juneteenth memorial

Laura Holder, Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area representative; Harvey Chrisman, AAHS board member; Pastor John Hayes, Burns Tabernacle; Alma McLemore, AAHS chairman; and Pastor Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church.

The African American Heritage Society’s 17th annual Juneteenth celebration was Saturday at Pinkerton Park. 

In addition to the celebration, a new marker recognizing Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger’s actions and the freedom of 250,000 slaves in Texas was unveiled. The marker, located adjacent an existing Fort Granger marker, tells the “fuller story” of Granger’s link to the celebration of Juneteenth and to Franklin during the Civil War.  

The Emancipation Proclamation, which became effective on Jan. 1, 1863, stated slaves were “forever free” in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union. It didn’t apply to Southern states such as Tennessee, which were under Union control or slave-holding border states and slaves still owned in Northern states. That came on Jan. 31, 1865, with the passing of the 13th Amendment. 

About 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, almost six months after the 13th Amendment was passed and two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, Granger, who had previously been stationed in Franklin until after the Battle of Franklin, was sent to Texas with more than 2,000 troops to reestablish U.S. control of the state, spread the word that the Civil War was over and ensure the state’s slaves were free.  

Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, and issued General Order No. 3, which stated that all slaves were to be free. In the order, he wrote, “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor.” 

The now former slaves laid down their tools and began a celebration that continued for several days. Many left Texas but never forgot to celebrate the memory of their first day of freedom, which, for years, was called Jubilee Day before it was changed to Juneteenth. 

Saturday’s celebration at Pinkerton Park was more than a celebration of freedom. It also was a health fair and a celebration of unity, of successes and of life as well as a time to remember and honor those who sacrificed, endured and committed themselves and generations to come to a better life. 

“When we honor each other’s story, when we want to tell each other’s story and when we understand each other’s story, we’re a better community,” said Alma McLemore, AAHS chairman, during the opening ceremony.  

The Franklin celebration has long included s local traditions such as strawberry soda, ice cream for kids and the Denny Denson Cake Walk. 

Jackie Johnson, “a proud Franklinite,” even though she now lives in Nashville, told a story of Juneteenth. 

“Initially the Proclamation of Emancipation wasn’t about freeing the slaves,” she said. “It was a method to pressure the Confederate states to return to the United States and suppress the French and British support of the cause.” 

Since the Proclamation didn’t apply to Tennessee because it was under Union control, “Gov. Andrew Jackson issued his own proclamation in 1864 to free the slaves in Tennessee.” 

Saturday marked 156 years since the first Juneteenth was celebrated. With the recent signing of a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday, Johnson questioned whether it might be a “smoke screen ... designed to take our minds off the issues that plaque us today.” 

Issues that included social justice, police reform, voting rights, voter suppression and critical race theory. 

Although the dedication of a statue was delayed, eight reenactors representing members of the 13th U.S. Colored Troops, Company A, were on hand. One member is the great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglas, a former slave who is known as the father of the civil rights movement.  

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