Storyteller Roland Barksdale-Hall will present “Sankofa: Go Back and Fetch It” as the keynote speaker for Clarion University’s Sixth Annual Juneteenth Community Celebration, June 20 at 11:30 a.m. in the Gemmell Student Complex Multi-Purpose Room. The program is free and open to the public. Lunch will be served following the program.
Other participants will include Tracy Becker, Clarion Chamber of Commerce; Clarion University Frederick Douglass Scholars Laura Straughn; Dr. Joanne Washington, Clarion University professor of mass media arts, journalism, and communication studies; Clarion University students Esteban Brown, Lorenzo Lopez, and other student performers to be announced; and the Buffalo Soldiers from VisionQuest.
“I hope to inspire,” said Barksdale-Hall, who teaches at Butler County Community College and is president of JAH Kente International, Inc., a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit arts and cultural organization with a mission to nurture the cultural spirit of Africa. He holds three master’s degrees in public history and leadership from Duquesne University and library science from the University of Pittsburgh and is founder of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society of Pittsburgh.
He was the keynote speaker for the First Juneteenth held by the International Sons and Daughters of Slave Ancestry on June 28, 1998, at the DuSable Museum in Chicago, Ill. He founded the Juneteenth Community Celebration in Pittsburgh.
Barksdale-Hall writes about liberation. His books include: “The African-American Leadership Guide, Healing, Rebuilding and Taking Back Our Communities,” and “The African-American Family’s Guide to Tracing Our Roots: Healing, Understanding and Restoring Our Families.” He serves on the editorial board of “The Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society “and “The Journal of Pan African Studies,” and is a contributing editor to “Mary Magazine.”
He is the recipient of the 2004 Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society National History Award. He is listed in Who’s Who Among African Americans and has made numerous national television and radio guest appearances. He has been researching the black family for more than 30 years. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission chose his essay, “The Twin City Elks Lodge, A Unifying Force in Farrell’s African American Community,” as the winning graduate entry in the 1993 Black History Conference Essay Contest.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. The holiday dates to June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the slaves were free. This happened two and a half year after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which had little impact on the Texans due to the small number of Union troops to enforce the new order. However, with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April 1865, and the arrival of the Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to quell any resistance.
Three major theories exist as to why it took so long for Texans to learn of the emancipation. One is a popular story of a messenger who was unable to reach Texas with the news because he was attacked and murdered along the way. Another is that the slave-owners did not tell their slaves in order to maintain the forced labor on the plantations. It is also theorized that federal troops actually waited to announce the news so they could receive on last cotton harvest.
Juneteenth celebrations declined over the years, and the Civil Rights Movement both encouraged and discouraged the event. While the movement pulled many African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. This was evidenced during the Atlanta civil rights campaign in the early 1960's, where student demonstrators wore Juneteenth freedom buttons.
In 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C., Rev. Ralph Abernathy's call for people all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activity. Two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after this March are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
In Texas, African American state legislator Al Edwards established Juneteenth as an official state holiday in 1980. The passage of the bill made Juneteenth the first emancipation celebration with official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of the holiday all across the United States.
Juneteenth has continues to enjoy a growing and healthy interest from communities and organizations throughout the country in the last two decades. The Smithsonian, Henry Ford Museum, and other institutions have sponsored Juneteenth-centered activities.
A complete history of the celebration and holiday is available at: http://www.elecvillage.com/juneteen.htm.
Clarion’s Juneteenth celebration is supported by a grant from the Clarion University Foundation Inc., with additional support from the Clarion University African America Caucus, and the Clarion Area Chamber of Commerce.