2010 Juneteenth Festival in Oberlin

Oberlin’s Juneteenth Festivities are almost upon us!

Though the holiday has since come to broadly commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, June 19th, 1865 actually corresponds to the announcement of the end of slavery in the state of Texas. Slavery was of course formally abolished with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it took General Gordon Granger and a large contingent of Union soldiers entering Galveston to successfully deliver the message. From the balcony of a downtown villa, General Granger read the following proclamation:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involved an absolute equality ot personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.

The Juneteenth Celebration, an official Texas holiday since 1980, has since spread to other states. The growing popularity of this day of remembrance and respect signals, perhaps, a heightened sensitivity in America to the facts of our history; it’s no surprise that Oberlin is at the forefront of such a movement. In 2004 the Oberlin City Council passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as an officially recognized day of commemoration and celebration. The town’s festivities are particularly interesting as the town adds it’s own rich history of abolitionist activism to the celebration.

This year Oberlin’s Juneteenth takes as its theme, 1860: Oberlin on the Eve of the War. Educational presentations and historical reenactments will focus on how little, unassuming Oberlin, in its unfailing commitment to abolition, contributed immeasurably to the advent of war.

Throughout the antebellum period Oberlin was a final stop on the underground railroad. Community members, faculty, and students would routinely aid runaway slaves on their road to freedom. Earning a nationwide reputation, the small Ohio town was just as reviled by Southern slave owners as it was lauded by northern abolitionists.

Oberlin was also home to runaway slaves who had chosen to remain in the United States instead of continuing to Canada. Their first hand knowledge of slavery and ability to inspire the community to action proved indispensable to the movement. Westwood Cemetery is the final resting place of such liberal lights as Lewis Clarke (the basis for the character George Harris in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s seminal novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Henry Lee (runaway slave, Oberlin graduate and legal activist), John Scott (emancipated slave and participant in the rescue of runaway slave John Price), and Mary Kellogg (emancipated slave and ardent activist). The great African-American activists Wilson Bruce and Henry Evans are also buried at Westwood.

Also laid to rest at Westwood is Lee Howard Dobbins, a four year old fugitive slave whose harrowing story will be featured at this year’s festival. Lee Howard reached Oberlin on the underground railroad in 1953 with an adoptive mother, but was too sick to travel any farther. Leaving Lee Howard in the care of an Oberlin family, his adoptive mother fled with several other children to escape their white pursuer, Lee Howard’s plantation-owning father. The child died of consumption several days later. Over 1000 people attended his funeral in First Church. But it was more than just a memorial service; the event was a rallying moment for Oberlin’s anti-slavery moment. By contributing ten cents apiece, the town purchased a headstone. Rev. Thome instructed the congregation to

Let that grave be a sacred spot. Plant there the flower to be watered by the tears of the future visitor. Erect a monument to the memory of the little slave boy, bearing the inscription ‘Resurgam’ and believe that as certainly as this little on shall rise again, so surely is written on the institution of slavery, ‘it shall fall.’

Learn more about Lee Howard Dobbins and other fascinating pieces of nineteenth-century Oberlin history at the Juneteenth Festival. The schedule is as follows:

Sunday, June 13th

  • A memorial service for Lee Howard Dobbins in First Church, followed by an ice cream social on the lawn. 6 pm.


Thursday, June 17th

  • Juneteenth Comedy Night. 7:30 pm.


Friday, June 18th

  • Oberlin in 1860 Trolley Tour. 10:30 am.
  •  Children’s Book Launch and Reception. 12:00 pm.
  • Westwood Cemetery Tour. 3:00 pm.
  • Juneteenth Community Picnic. 4:00 pm.
  • Maafa Memorial Service. 6:30 pm.

Saturday, June 19th

  • Juneteenth Festival on Tappan Square. 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
    • Festival will include vendors, children’s bike give-a-ways, mime and step dancing demonstrations, greens and cobbler cook-off contest, broom jumping, music by various local groups, rock-paper-scissors contest, jump rope demonstration, youth karoake contest, 3-on-3 basketball tournament for 3rd-5th graders, and Oberlin history trolley tours at 1 pm, 2 pm, and 3 pm.
  • Juneteenth Parade. 12:00 pm.
  • Juneteenth Concert with Latin Jazz band La Bamba. 5:00 pm.
For more information on Juneteenth, visit our website, email us at info@visitloraincounty.com, call us at (440) 984-5282, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For more information on other festivals and events this summer in Lorain County, take a look at our Calendar of Events
posted by lorain at 4:04 pm

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