Wilson Advance, 12 December 1895.
For fifty or so years after the Civil War, Wilson’s African-American community celebrated Emancipation Day on January 1. The day marked the issuance in 1863 of the Emancipation Proclamation and was decidedly symbolic, as that executive order could not be enforced on behalf of most of North Carolina’s enslaved. Instead, they were freed, as a practical matter, only after the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.
In Texas, freedom did not arrive until June 19 of that year, when a Union Army commander read General Order No. 3 upon arrival in Galveston. African-American Texans have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1866, and, after slowly gaining traction across the country over the last few decades, the holiday is now widely observed. (This very day, in fact, it’s on the verge of becoming a national holiday, which feels performative, if not downright gaslight-y, given where this country is on any and every substantive thing around Black history.)
Juneteenth is a new celebration in Wilson, but it picks up where an old one left off, and I love to see it. Starting June 18, The Spot, an after-school youth center in what was once the New Grabneck neighborhood, is presenting Walk In Their Shoes — “this project will reimagine our existing walking trail into an immersive storytelling experience. Students and families can attend during open walking times and use technology to hear real stories from real people in our community. Around the trail art installments created by SPOT students will give a visual insight to the story and bring it to life.”
On June 26, Mount Hebron Masonic Lodge No. 42 — chartered in Wilson in 1881 — is throwing a party in the iconic 500 block of East Nash Street featuring food, music, art, and dollops of history throughout. (Can you identify the five titans of East Wilson depicted at the top of their flyer?)
For decades after Freedom, African-Americans celebrated Emancipation Day — January 1 — with speeches, performances and communal meals. This torn New York Age article, published 4 January 1912, records the New Year’s Day observations of Wilson’s Non-Formal Club, which apparently catered to the city’s tiny black educated class.
- a solo by Maggie Barnes,
- an address by pharmacist Darcy C. Yancey; and
- an informal oyster supper hosted by Dr. William and Mrs. Marie Person Mitchner. (Club officers included Rev. Halley B. Taylor, Rev. Robert N. Perry, Harvey G. Barnes, and Camillus L. Darden.)
[Charleston, South Carolina, still proudly carries on the tradition of Emancipation Day observations. For a fascinating account of the city’s celebrations, see https://charlestontimemachine.org/2017/12/28/emancipation-day-2018/ ]