Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Atlanta History Center has cancelled its Juneteenth program, but has prepared special online content for the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865 — the date that the last enslaved African Americans in the United States learned that they were free after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Atlanta History Center’s “Juneteenth” program logo.

The Atlanta History Center has organized a 2020 virtual program filled with resources for all ages to mark the occasion. Online visitors are invited to explore themes of struggle, freedom and family history through the specially prepared content on the “Museum at Home” page.

The blog post “Juneteenth: A Celebration for a New Age,” written by Atlanta History Center Vice President of Historical Interpretation and Community Partnerships Calinda Lee, traces the remarkable twists and turns in the history of the observance. Lee writes that though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, few people were immediately freed. The Civil War was ongoing and “‘rebellious states’ were in no mood to play heed to Lincoln’s order.”

Even after the war’s official end on April 2, 1865, some troops continued fight for a full two months. “Slaveholders were loath to respect the change in law,” Lee explained. “And enslaved people, often isolated and illiterate, had limited access to information. A full two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two long months after Richmond [the Confederate capital in Virginia] fell, the last enslaved African Americans in Texas were pronounced free people. That momentous date, June 19, 1865, has been proclaimed Juneteenth and celebrated annually ever since.”

The Juneteenth 2020 online content will also include:

Civil War engagements of United States Colored Troops

Following the Militia Act of 1862, the United States Army accepted African American troops. They were formed into segregated regiments known as the United States Colored Troops. In 1862, approximately 1% of the Northern population was black. However, by 1865 nearly 12% of U.S. troops were African American. Interactive images will highlight USCT’S participation during the Fall of Richmond and Appomattox, the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, the Battle of Fort Pillow, the Battle of Olustee and the Battle of the Crater. Includes historic maps and newspaper clippings, summaries about the conflicts, audio performances of USCT soldier accounts, and information about related artifacts in the museum’s collections.

Finding your  African American roots

A pre-recorded session with Emma Davis-Hamilton, a Georgia Genealogical Society board member and past president of the Atlanta chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. She will cover finding and using Freedmen’s Bureau records. Established in 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau helped formerly enslaved people in many ways, including locating family members, legalizing marriages, finding employment and investigating racial confrontations. The documents the bureau generated include local censuses, marriage records, and medical records that provide freed people’s full names and the names of their former slaveholders.

African American heritage and culture reading list

A suggested reading list of books celebrating African American heritage and culture for all age groups. Curated by Charis Books & More, the focus is on primary sources, direct voices and African American authors. Selections include, for young children, “Juneteeth for Mazie” by Floyd Cooper; for middle grades/teenagers, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi; and for adults, “Finding Your Roots: The Official Companion to the PBS Series” by Henry Louis Gates. Those interested can purchase the books from Charis via a direct link.

Super Spies, an animated comic

Using hand-drawn illustrations, historical photographs and storytelling, the comic explores the history of Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Van Lew and Mary Bowser during the American Civil War. The comic also includes an activity in which students can create ciphers to decode secret messages. The story is by Addae Moon, the museum’s director of performance-based interpretation, with hand-drawn illustrations by historical interpreter Shay Stewart.

Regimental battle flag interactive presentation

An interactive presentation on the regimental battle flag of the 127th United States Colored Troops in Atlanta History Center’s collections. History Center Senior Military Historian Gordon Jones provides audio interpretation about the flag, one of fewer than 25 known examples carried by African American regiments during the Civil War. The presentation includes an activity tied to its creator, David Bustill Bowser (1820-1890), a Philadelphia sign-painter, portraitist and anti-slavery activist.

Juneteenth Jamboree

A curated music playlist. The playlist includes classic songs such as Louis Armstrong’s “Go Down Moses” (1958) and jazz by John Coltrane to more contemporary tunes by Beyoncé and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Story time with National Center for Civil and Human Rights

In a program for elementary-school-aged children, partners from the Downtown museum will read “Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine. The book recounts the story of a young boy who grows into a man under the harsh conditions of slavery, all the time yearning to be free. After he is separated from his family for the second time, Henry comes up with the idea of mailing himself to freedom in the North. Prior to the reading, Jasmine Page, NCCHR Education Programs Coordinator, provides a brief discussion about self-liberation, how that form of resistance influenced the Civil Rights movement, and how the work is being done today.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.