MOUNT DESERT ISLAND—Across the island, gatherings were held to mark Juneteenth on Friday, June 19.
Juneteenth is “the Black American Independence Day,” said Cas Dowden during Bar Harbor Congregational Church’s commemoration of the day, which was livestreamed on Facebook. June 19, 1865, was the day “Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, found out they had been free for two years,” explained Dowden.
It took over two years from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, for Union troops to make it to Texas with a proclamation that read: “The people of Texas are informed with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
According to the National Registry of Juneteenth Organizations and Supporters website, the reactions to the news “ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation,” and the memory of the day would live on. “Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.”
Dowden said she learned of Juneteenth while visiting family in Arkansas in the summer. According to the national registry, Juneteenth is now celebrated across the country, and indeed all over the world.
This year, following the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests and marches, Juneteenth has seen a resurgence.
In addition to the commemoration at Bar Harbor Congregational Church that involved the ringing of church bells and a livestreamed conversation with Dowden and Pastor Rob Benson, gatherings were also held on the Bar Harbor Village Green and outside the Harbor House in Southwest Harbor.
The celebration outside Harbor House Friday morning was socially distanced, with speakers and the ringing of a bell.
The celebration on the Village Green in Bar Harbor began at 6:19 p.m., a time chosen to mark the date, said Jill Weber, one of the organizers. A crowd of more than 100 people listened to recorded speeches including Frederick Douglass’s “What, To the Slave, Is the Fourth of July?” read by James Earl Jones, and an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, while local church bells rang.
Weber said they planned recorded speeches because “the organizers, all white, could not speak for Black Americans; thus, there were no speakers at the event.” Signs posted throughout the Village Green highlighted the historical significance of the day.
The event, said Weber, “was envisioned as an opportunity to help educate people about an important part of Black Americans’ history that has been ignored and gone untaught to the majority of Americans.”
An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation as January 2, 1863. It was one day earlier. The Islander apologizes for the error.