MONROVIA — It was a moment of celebration as June 19, also known as Juneteenth was yesterday celebrated in the United States of America, but with even a deeper sense of identity when Joel Maybury, Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Government to Liberia joined ranks with scores of visitors, almost all being African Americans to recollect from history the significance of the connection between a portion of American population and those with same or similar link in Liberia.
Maybury, a trained journalist and diplomat said he was humbled that he was at the historic Providence Baptist, a “hallowed” place where the first generation of freed Black Americans who came to “these shores on January 7, 1822 gathered to worship.”
The brief ceremony held in the original edifice of the Baptist Church in Liberia marked the beginning of the first Journey Home Festival organized and hosted by Saqar Ahahh Ahershu and Den Tut Ray, both African Americans who have been in Liberia for nearly five years.
“Those men, women, and children arrived in the land that came to be known as Liberia almost a full 41 years before the Emancipation Proclamation,” Maybury said, adding, that Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of enslaved people in the United States at the end of the civil war.
The U.S. diplomat explained that on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and declared enslaved people in the Confederacy free but that there was a condition and that was that the Union wins the war.
He said that Liberia is a unique place rich in history and closely connected to African Americans due to its freedom, a gift so essential to humankind that is in many places denied certain people based on skin color, place of origin or some other peculiar reasons.
Maybury: “The Emancipation Proclamation turned the war into a fight for freedom and by the end of the war, 200,000 black soldiers had joined fight spreading news of freedom as they fought their way through the South. As you no doubt know, the State of Texas was one of the last strongholds of the South and as a result emancipation would take longer there. In fact, when the last battle of the Civil War was fought in 1865, it is believed that many enslaved people still did not know they were freed.”
He registered that many slaves, blacks, barely knew that they were freed at last until when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 and announced that President Abraham Lincoln had issued a Proclamation freeing them that 250,000 enslaved people learned their freedom.
“These were the words of Granger that day “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes employer and hired labor.”
He noted that it is known that early Juneteenth celebrations included Church services, public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, and social events like rodeos and dances and in present day era, food and community cohesion make up Juneteenth’s celebrations.
He recalled that in June 2021, the U.S. Congress passed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. With the signing of the bill by President Biden, Juneteenth became the first new federal holiday since the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Maybury announced that Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State does not only recognizes Juneteenth as a Federal holiday but “more broadly, it is a celebration of Black culture, and a reminder to all Americans that our nation’s journey toward equality has been long, often painful, and is still incomplete.”
He said, not only in Liberia but Blinken has committed the Free American to championing the cause of building a world of freed in all the nations.
“Desiree Cormier Smith was sworn in last week as the State Department’s first Special Representative for Racial Inequality and Justice. She will lead our work worldwide to protect and advance the human rights of people belonging to marginalized social and ethnic communities and combat systemic racism, discrimination and xenophobia,” he said.
He welcomed his fellow Americans, Rev. Dr. Cythia Jackson, Judge of the Municipal Court of New Jersey and others who have made it their solemn obligation to visit Liberia and appreciation the unique links worth learning about and helping to contribute to a better community.
Rev. Charles O.D. Diggs, the administrative pastor of Providence Baptist Church gave a brief history about his church as the friends sat in the edifice to learn together and fellowship.
Diggs said there is never a possibility one would talk about Liberia without mentioning the Providence Baptist Church because it was in the church representatives from Grand Bassa, Sinoe and Montserrado, the first three counties then making up Liberia assembled, signed and proclaimed the declaration of independence.
He told the audience that Lott Carey, a former slave born as a slave in the U.S. became Liberia’s first Baptist Pastor in 1821.
He named John Day and Collin Teage who, along with Carey met at the home of (Teage) in America and formed the Providence Church now in Liberia.
Although he did not name the second, but Diggs disclosed that his church is the first of first two Black Churches in Africa and the world in general.
He enumerated the contributions of his church to Liberia through education, health, philanthropism and Gospel ministration.
Rev. Laura Pritchard, Director for sisterly Church relations at the Baptist Church and Dr. Clarice Kulah dramatized the struggle for freedom by the then slaves and their yearning to travel to where is today known Liberia when the American Colonization Society began repatriating freed slaves to African to not only depopulate the black communities in America in fear of rebellions against their former masters but also to begin the spreading of Christianity and Western civilization.
After the indoor ceremony, sightseeing visits were made the National Museum and the Centennial Pavilion where pictures and artifacts depicting historic events, including those of tragic nature as in the case of the civil war were viewed and learned about.
The Providence Island and the derelict Ducor Palace Hotel and other historic scenes and signs of Broad Street were also visited.
The team continues today with a visit to Demein, village in Bomi full of rich history, mainly about the Gola tribe and the Blue Lake in Tubmanburg, Bomi County.