This morning's headline in the newspaper proclaims: "JUNETEENTH BILL SIGNED." This creates a new Federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Tomorrow, June 19th, is the actual anniversary of the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the people enslaved in Texas, bringing FREEDOM!
Growing up in Danvers, I did not hear the word "Juneteenth" nor did I hear much about slavery. I certainly didn't know the Texas part of the story, with a delay of over two years for the news of slavery's end to reach Texas. History did not interest me then. History lessons in school had bored me, with too many names of long-ago kings, distant battles, and dates to memorize – nothing that meant anything real to me. Even in college I avoided history courses, preferring to focus on math and science, music and language study. Years later, I realized my mistake. History is worth studying.
Yesterday my daughter gave a presentation as part of a series of Juneteenth events organized by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. "Finding Our Roots" was the theme. I observed the entire (online) program, and was much impressed. I intend to catch other parts of the Juneteenth programming this weekend. See full schedule here:
My daughter and I are both reckoning with discoveries about some of our ancestors who had connections to slavery. Her presentation was titled, "Uncovering My Family’s History of Enslavement." For five years she has been researching her father's forebearers in and around Portsmouth, NH, and Kittery, Maine. Among them were ship captains who brought enslaved Africans to New Hampshire, and homeowners who owned enslaved workers. Other ancestors worked in the cotton trade or the sugar trade, accumulating wealth that was built with the labor of enslaved peoples. Seven generations in that family line were thus complicit in continuing/supporting the institution of slavery.
Meanwhile, on my side of the family I could point to anti-slavery activists, especially abolitionists in Danvers. But... I did not know until recently that an earlier ancestor – a famous one whose portrait was proudly displayed in the Nichols homestead in Danvers – had enslaved Africans.
They were named Juba & Bilhah. They were enslaved by Rev. Edward Holyoke; they lived and worked in his home in Wadsworth Hall at Harvard, where he resided while he served as 9th President of Harvard College (1737- 1769).