The celebration of Juneteenth historically recognizes the official end of slavery in the United States. The exact dates that the final slaves were set free vary because word of the Civil War’s end and the passage of the 13th Amendment took so long to travel in those days. Therefore, June 19, also called Juneteenth, serves as the official date.
This year, the Wilson County Black History Committee and several other area social advocacy groups like Peace, Love and Justice — Mt. Juliet and Wilson County’s Rho Kappa Kappa chapter are organizing a street festival in downtown Lebanon on June 19.
The event starts at 11 a.m. and lasts until 5 that afternoon and will block off the Market Street Community district. According to Lebanon Police Department’s assistant public information officer Phillip Lacy, the block between College Street and Cedar Street will be closed to traffic. This is the block where Pickett Chapel is located.
Pickett Chapel is now the site of a historic registry marker recognizing its role in the black community’s self defense against oppressive white attitudes, which boiled over and became violent in the early 1960s. Thanks to work from the WCBHC, the church is being renovated into a history museum that catalogs those important dates in Lebanon’s history.
One of the WCBHC volunteers and a co-chair of the Juneteenth Festival, Keisha Pickett, said she’s thrilled to be organizing the event and excited to share in this celebration with Wilson County.
Pickett said she wanted to thank Lyn Williams with Edward Jones Financial Planners, First Baptist Church of Lebanon and Hellum Funeral Home for sponsoring the event.
“We are so appreciative of those organizations for helping with the financial aspects of the event. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible.”
Typically, this would be an annual event, but it didn’t happen last year like many events, because of the tornado and pandemic. Pickett sees this opening back up as the “perfect opportunity for an event that promotes unity.”
Pickett also pointed to the firestorm of outrage that spilled into America’s streets following the murder of George Floyd and the no-knock warrant that led to Breonna Taylor’s death in the middle of the night.
Pickett said these events didn’t start racial tension in America, but rather brought to light a reality with which Black Americans deal every day.
That’s why this event’s main goal is to “educate the community.”
“This isn’t a Black Lives Matter rally. It’s about bringing awareness to the issue and the need for unity,” she said.
To celebrate that unity and diversity, a whole slew of vendors from different ethnicities are invited to trade, cook, perform music or just come out for the fun. There will be a Kid Zone set up with inflatable games as well as a book give-away by the Lebanon Special School District. Also, attendees can expect appearances by local law enforcement.
Pickett said this event isn’t about antagonizing police. It’s about rebuilding and reconciling that faith and trust between the community and law enforcement that has become so strained.
Wilson County’s lone Black commissioner, Annette Stafford, said that she was “excited” to see the festival return after a year off.
Now with restrictions on gatherings easing and vaccinations available, the community can safely return to large get-togethers. Stafford said it’s vital that “we get back to how we used to live.”
The commissioner believes unity is attainable if the community members are able to understand each other’s history. She also said it’s paramount to give “young people a chance to learn how the history of Juneteenth was.”
Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell said he wanted to thank everyone who has organized the Juneteenth celebration.
“As a historian, I know that this date is important because it celebrates the end of slavery,” he said. “As mayor, I am thrilled that this event is being held because it celebrates culture and diversity in our city.”
History of Juneteenth
Many people think that when Abe Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves were set free and their centuries of bondage were over. But, that proclamation was issued in 1863, two years before the Civil War was over.
The Confederacy, still in open rebellion to the Union, was not subject to orders from Washington, so no one actually relinquished their slave holdings.
Even after the Union had defeated the South, forcing Gen. Lee’s hand to surrender at Appomattox, slaves in the far western reaches of the tattered Confederate remnants remained in shackles.
When news did reach those outer bands of Southern holdouts, it had been over three months since Lee formally surrendered. But that did not reduce the impact of the momentous news finally reaching those who had been held down for so long.
Texas was the first state to formally recognize Juneteenth in 1980. Since then, June 19 has become the day that historic communities, academic institutions and governing bodies have come to recognize as the official date.