Albany historians reflect on the history of Juneteenth
ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Frank Wilson is a local historian and activist in Albany who wants to make sure others understand the significance of Juneteenth.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of the news when folks in Galveston, Texas found out that freedom had come,” he said. “Gordon Granger with the army went into Galveston to deliver the news although the Emancipation Proclamation had been delivered two years earlier. The folks in Texas did not know that they had been freed.”
This is because many slave owners purposely did not tell their slaves that they had been freed.
“That date was June 19th, so we get Juneteenth from a combination of June 19th and June. So it’s Juneteenth,” Wilson said.
The slave trade is a big part of Albany’s history. The city’s population exploded in the mid-1800s, largely due to the increase of enslaved African-Americans. Historian Michael Harper says there is very little documentation of the exact number of those who were enslaved.
“The last census report before the end of slavery was 1860. Dougherty County had 9,000 enslaved Africans and then 3,000 enslavers,” Harper said. “One to three ratio. The city and Dougherty County, Albany has been predominantly African American since its inception.”
He says these statistics raise very important questions.
“My question is this: because of that one to three ratio, where is the history of those people in Dougherty County? It’s here, it had been purposefully obliterated and hidden,” Harper said. “So we need to use this Juneteenth since it is also the first official recognition of Juneteenth here in Albany as an opportunity to start researching our history in this geographical area.”
Today, there are many markers throughout Albany to remember Civil War veterans who fought to keep people enslaved, like the Confederate Memorial Park in Albany. But Harper says there is almost nothing that provides historical details about the enslaved.
“Who were these 9,000 people here?” Harper said. “And where are they today? Where are their descendants? Because if you don’t have a history, you don’t know where you’re going.”
Like many African Americans, Harper believes the Fourth of July is not a day to celebrate.
“I don’t celebrate the 4th of July, 1776 because 4th of July 1776, slavery was legal in this country,” he said. “We had no freedom to celebrate. As an American, I can acknowledge that that was something that happen in the history of our country. It happened, so I will accept that. As a person, I don’t celebrate the 4th of July because my ancestors did not have freedom in America on July 4, 1776.”
The slave trade officially ended in the US on June 19, 1865. But nearly 100 years later, African-Americans in Albany were still fighting for equality. And today, 60 years after that, we are still often fighting for justice. Juneteenth is a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.
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