Photos by Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune Anthony Gibbs of the 5th U.S. Colored Troops reenactment group out of Columbus chats Saturday with President Abraham Lincoln reenactor John Cooper at the opening of Oberlin’s Juneteenth celebration.

Cooper recites part of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed four million slaves in the North and South.

The Rev. Laurence Nevels of Christ Temple Apostolic Church opens Juneteenth with a prayer.

Oberlin councilman Scott Broadwell reads from the city’s Juneteenth proclamation.

Who better to open Oberlin’s Juneteenth festivities Saturday than President Abraham Lincoln himself?

“I am here, of course, because I had just a little bit to do with the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Lincoln, portrayed by actor John Cooper.

Crowds listened on Tappan Square as he explained the 16th president’s bold move of declaring slavery illegal as southern states sought to secede.

By moving the focus of the Civil War from economics to slavery, Lincoln effectively barred major Western powers from picking sides. Britain and France, which had outlawed slavery by the 1830s, couldn’t support the Confederacy without endorsing slavery.

The Emancipation Proclamation instantly freed 100,000 fugitive slaves held by the Union. It also inspired 180,000 black men to enlist in the U.S. Colored Troops for the North, which Cooper credited as Lincoln’s winning stroke.

“Every day we conquered more territory, we freed more slaves,” he said.

News traveled slowly in the Civil War era. Word of emancipation didn’t reach Galvaston, Texas, until June 19, 1865 — more than two years after Lincoln’s proclamation.

Juneteenth, observed all over the United States, is born out of that long-awaited day. This year marks the 150th anniversary year of the end of the war and full legal emancipation.

Festivities here are not only celebratory but are also a way to advocate continuing work in the long struggle for equality.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.