published Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Juneteenth event reminds Chattanooga youths of hard-won liberty

Cheryl Norris Sanders speaks during a Juneteenth celebration.
Cheryl Norris Sanders speaks during a Juneteenth celebration.
Photo by Angela Lewis.


Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.


One Chattanooga woman valued education so much that she sought after it even after she turned 100.

Mary Walker, a former slave who lived in Chattanooga, was 117 when she learned to read.

The Mary Walker Towers is named in her honor.

Walker is among the historymakers whom Juneteenth organizers want to highlight at the second annual Juneteenth Chattanooga celebration sponsored by Eastdale Village Community United Methodist Church and the Mary Walker Historical & Educational Foundation.

"We want people to get a connection with the history of Juneteenth, a connection with the history of the African-American race, where they came from," said Cheryl Norris Sanders, who spoke during the event.

Chattanooga is among cities throughout the country commemorating the oldest celebration of freedom from slavery in America.

Anthony Knox, a 15-year-old Ivy Academy rising sophomore, said he didn't know much about Juneteenth, but he had heard about some black history.

"I've heard how blacks were uneducated and how whites were more educated and how black men get put in jail because of the way they look," he said.

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the freedom of some slaves in Jan. 1, 1863, when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But slaves in Galveston, Texas, didn't get the news until two and a half years later.

The date was June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, brought the news that the Civil War had ended and that they were free. Slaves dropped their hoes, rakes, whatever tools they were using, and broke out into a spontaneous celebration, said Sanders.

John Edwards, board chairman and curator for the Mary Walker Historical & Educational Foundation, urged the youths to learn about the sacrifices that people have made for their freedom and to use their freedom responsibly.

"Rosa Parks didn't know if she was going to die or get killed when she was arrested for not moving to the back of the bus," Edwards said while telling the story of the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. "But that one act that she did made a difference for the next generation. What you're doing today affects the next generation."

People who don't know where they come from will never know where they are going, said Sanders.

"When people know their history, they have respect for themselves and their people," Sanders said.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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