Two years after President Biden signed an executive order making Juneteeth a national holiday, Lincoln Square in Gettysburg became the gathering place for the third annual Juneteenth Parade.
With some attendees some holding signs, and some accepting buckets and drumsticks from local musician Ricky Czar, a growing number of people gathered to hear Mayor Rita Frealing read her proclamation declaring the holiday. Her heartfelt reading was preceded by young Chosen Shahid, who led the crowd in the singing of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Chosen’s mom, Blessing Shahid, was the day’s organizer, giving direction to the crowd while pushing a stroller and leading the parade in a beautiful swirling purple dress.
Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery and commemorates June 19th, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were free. Granger’s message came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And according to Mama Gail Steward-Clouden, resplendent in white for this holiday, “It wasn’t all about the celebration. There was some anger there that it took two years.”
As the crowd left the square, the first stop was at the home of one-time Gettysburg College Janitor Jack Hopkins, whose family fled Gettysburg in the days before the battle to avoid being taken into slavery by Confederate soldiers.
LaRock Hudson and Mama Gail captivated the crowd with that story before leading the parade to the AME church.
At St. Paul’s AME Church, on the corner of Washington and Breckenridge streets, the historical plaque that commemorates the rich history of the African American community and the contributions of many of its members was read out loud.
As the parade moved through the streets, the bucket drummers drummed and the chant of “Juneteenth-Freedom Day!” resounded through the buildings as passing motorists honked and waved. Smiling Gettysburg borough police officers stopped and directed patient drivers at the intersections affected by the parade marchers.
Elmer Shelton gave a brief talk at the corner of High and Franklin Streets about the Colored School, used during segregation, which no longer stands on this site but is now a beer mart.
Alisha Sanders, candidate for the Gettysburg Borough Council seat from the 3rd Ward and a teacher in the Gettysburg Area School District, addressed the crowd in front of the Lincoln Cemetery on Long Lane, a burial ground that was segregated for people of color. Sanders explained that what looks like a field inside the iron-fenced enclosure is actually unmarked graves.
The adjacent alley still covers some ancestors’ final resting places. A plan is in the works for the gate to be unlocked on special occasions for people to enter the grounds and learn more about the history of this sacred place.
At the rec park, vendors with beautiful flowers and colorful clothing and jewelry were set up outside, while food and entertainment lured folks into the colorfully decorated and wonderfully aromatic indoor event space.
While the commemoration and celebration may last one day, appreciation can last a lifetime and there is still work to be done. But today, Jubilee!
See you same time, next year!!
Deb Collins has been in central Pennsylvania since 1989. Her children graduated from Gettysburg Area High School at the turn of the century and now live at opposite ends of the turnpike, Chelsea in Pittsburgh and Jake in Philadelphia. Raised in Connecticut, Deb enjoys the milder climate and the proximity to so many major cities that Gettysburg provides.