The 2016 Juneteenth Oberlin Festival will begin June 12, celebrating the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom.
While its roots are in Texas, Juneteenth has become a day to celebrate freedom all over the United States. Oberlin’s history of commitment to abolition and the cause of freedom make the city uniquely qualified to celebrate Juneteenth.
Juneteenth, originally June 19, 1865, is considered the date when the last slaves in America were freed. Although the rumors of freedom were widespread prior to this, actual emancipation did not come in Texas until June 19, almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
Events will run through the week:
• The Potter’s Field Memorial Service, “Lay The Body Down,” will celebrate the 152nd Anniversary of Westwood Cemetery with a program at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 12 at the cemetery. It will feature an opening prayer, a dove release, and history about the connections between Oberlin, Canada, and the Underground Railroad.
• A Maafa ceremony, “I See the Sign, I See the Light,” will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 17 at Westwood Cemetery. Maafa is also known as the Holocaust of Enslavement and is a national commemoration of the pain, suffering, and loss of life of Africans in the Diaspora. It will include a prayer, an African libation, the Mt. Zion Praise Dance Ministry, and a spiritual with Cassandra Brown on vocals and Daniel Spearman on trumpet (both attend Mt. Zion Baptist Church).
• “Freedom Trails: The Oberlin-Canada Connection” will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 18 on Tappan Square. Beginning with an opening prayer and blessing, this year’s festival will include vendor booths, a parade, food, activities, and games for children. Entertainment will consist of rhythm and blues, jazz, DJ David Hopkins, Sugar Ray Ballard, Utah Witherspoon, African Jazz Society of Oberlin, church choirs, African Royalty Dancers, the Ty Squad, The 5th U.S. Colored Troops, The Black Cowboys, the historic Juneteenth clown, an Abraham Lincoln re-enactor, the Milt Hinton Institute faculty ensemble/student ensemble featuring Mimi Jones, John Clayton Jr, Robert Hurst III, and an acknowledgement for the tireless community work of Thelma Quinn Smith.
• Guided trolley tours focusing on African American architecture will run from 10-11 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Saturday with guest architectural historian Patricia Neely McCurdy, author of “The Houses of Buxton: A Legacy of African Influences in Architecture.”
The 2016 Juneteenth Celebration has been supported by several organizations: Oberlin Underground Railroad Society, Oberlin Public Library, various community-centered entities at Oberlin College, the city of Oberlin, the Oberlin Rotary, and children’s activities this year are sponsored by Charles Horton.
File photo President Abraham Lincoln (reenactor John Cooper) speaks at Oberlin’s 2015 Juneteenth Celebration.