News and Tribune

June 19, 2013

New Albany celebrates end of slavery during inaugural Juneteenth festival

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY —

Nestled underneath the canopy of the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater, children listened to Ann Carruthers as she spoke about an event that occurred almost 150 years ago. 

June 19, 1865, is a date that holds not only historical significance, Carruthers said, but provides lessons that today’s youth could benefit from examining. 

It was on that day — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over, and to enforce the fact that slaves had been liberated. 

The date became known as Juneteenth, and was regularly celebrated in the past as a memorial to freedom, as many Texans had ignored the abolishment of slavery until that fateful June day. 

But in Southern Indiana, Juneteenth was mostly overlooked until this year. New Albany Parks Department interim Director Kathy Wilkerson organized a celebration that included a parade, guest speakers and a variety of festivities for children. 

Due to scheduling conflicts, the event was held Tuesday instead of today, but Wilkerson said she was impressed by the attendance and the interest the children showed in learning about Juneteenth. 

“We wanted the whole day to be about history,” Wilkerson said, as kids paraded along Water Street with flags they’d made in honor of Juneteenth. “This celebration is not in the history books, and it should be.” 

Shawn and Ann Carruthers recently started a volunteer organization in Southern Indiana called Team Impact. 

“We advocate, mentor and teach  young people about life,” Ann Carruthers said. 

They helped organize New Albany’s Juneteenth celebration, and they took part in educating the dozens of kids who participated about the significance of that day in 1865.

“This is a launching point to promote individual achievement, personal responsibility and the ability to move forward,” Shawn Carruthers said. 

Obviously a landmark day in black history, Juneteenth is a reminder to the black community to claim its identity and learn from the past, he continued. 

But he added all cultures can learn something from Juneteenth. 

In the future, organizers of the event hope to bring other Southern Indiana cities such as Jeffersonville and Clarksville into the mix. 

Ann Carruthers said it’s always important to take part in shaping the lives of children in a positive way. 

“We have to catch our young people right now because they’re young and they need people to be mentors to them,” she said. 

In addition to the parade, exhibits, games and live music were offered at the Kathy Wilkerson/Griffin Street Recreation Center. 

A traditional “poor folks” supper consisting of chicken, collard greens and cornbread was served for senior citizens, and an ice cream social was also held. 

The River Institute Traveling Drama Team from Hanover College performed “Nothing Stops this Train” for the kids, as the drama was based on the Underground Railroad. 

New Albany is linked to the Underground Railroad — which is one of several moments in the city’s past worth revisiting, Shawn Carruthers said. 

“New Albany has a wealth of history — history that young people tend to overlook,” he said. 

Ann Carruthers added that Tuesday’s celebration allowed children to learn about the past in a real yet positive way. 

“We don’t have to incorporate the negative parts of history to tell them about history,” she said. 

The spirit of Juneteenth is the celebration of all cultures and their importance to society, Mayor Jeff Gahan said. 

“I think it’s exciting that our parks department took the time to put together what’s really a strong program,” he said. “It’s kind of a reminder that New Albany is a community of openness and inclusiveness.”