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June 19, 2013

New Albany celebrates end of slavery during inaugural Juneteenth festival

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. 

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Savannah Hatton, junior, and Clay Gulley, senior, act out a scene as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett in Floyd Central High School's production of "Pride and Prejudice." The show opens Friday night.

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