Slaves and the anniversary of their emancipation were commemorated Friday in an Oberlin Juneteenth ceremony at Westwood Cemetery.
“We give honor and recognition to those who lost their lives on the journey from slavery to freedom,” said speaker Nola Bland, a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church whose congregation helped organize the tribute. “This disaster was the black holocaust.”
Between 10 to 15 million Africans were enslaved and shipped across the Atlantic between 1500 and 1900 with at least two million dying during the trip. Juneteenth celebrates June, 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news of the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in 1863.
Various explanations for the two-and-a-half year notification delay have been given. They include that a messenger with the news was murdered, that slave owners withheld the news, and that Union troops withheld the news to allow for one last cotton harvest.
Newly-freed black people celebrated the news and the anniversary of the notification has been celebrated ever since. Celebrations diminished in the early 20th century but surged after the civil rights movement and the 1968 Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C.
Celebrations have occurred in Oberlin for some 20 years and were originally part of Heritage Days celebrations, according to Adenike Sharpley, Oberlin Juneteenth chairwoman. Juneteenth was declared a day of celebration in Oberlin in 2004.
Sharpley said before the ceremony that her involvement is a way to pay tribute to her ancestors.
“It gives a chance to pray for their souls,” she said. “Some of them never made it here. Some of them never made it to Canada. Some of them never made it to freedom.”
The tribute, attended by about 40 people, included prayers, songs and a performance by girls from the Mt. Zion youth praise dance team. “Please do not forget the words that were spoken today so you can pass them on to future generations,” Bland told the girls.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Nola Bland, a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church, speaks at Friday’s Juneteenth commemoration.