Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center, Hannibal’s newest museum, highlights the courage and accomplishments of — and gives dignity to — Hannibal’s nameless, invisible ancestors who labored as slaves in our community.
On Monday, June 19, Hannibal will celebrate Juneteenth with an event that commemorates the date — June 19, 1865 — when the last 200,000 slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas, with the arrival of federal troops.
On that day in 1865, a spontaneous celebration of emancipation was born. Yes, it was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. To avoid compliance, tens of thousands of slaveholders fled to Texas to keep their slaves, a process known as refugeeing. Whites also came from neighboring states in droves, believing their slave property would be safe in Texas, the last frontier, where slaves continued to be bought and sold. Although estimates vary widely, historians believe that after 1863 between 50,000 and 150,000 refugeed slaves were brought to Texas.
Hundreds of miles east and months earlier the Missouri State Convention delegates passed the 1865 Emancipation Proclamation Ordinance. Because Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to loyal slave states, Missouri became the first slave state to free its slaves — more than 114,000 men, women and children. Newly freed slave responses ranged from exhilaration and celebration to incredulity and fear. The fears proved justified as nearly 25 percent died in the first 5 years post emancipation, beset by homelessness, starvation and disease.
By 1845, Hannibal had achieved city status and by 1860, the population had more than doubled, making it the second largest city and third commercial center in Missouri.
The history and culture of slavery in the Hannibal area are told in Terrell Dempsey’s book “Searching for Jim: The Untold Story of Slavery in Sam Clemens’s World.”
“Like land, slaves were a valuable asset — traded, inherited, rented, bought and sold. ... An important source of city and state income amounting to more than 20 percent of Marion County revenue.”
Slaves worked as household help and field hands, skilled tradesman, railroad builders, nursemaids, miners and riverboat laborers and much more, contributing to Hannibal’s fiscal success and growth. The life of the slave was brutal, replete with laws that regulated the slave’s life from cradle to grave.
This year's Juneteenth
Hannibal’s first Juneteenth Celebration was June 1997. Marsha Mayfield, co-founder of Parents and Youth Reaching For Educational Excellence and Cultural Togetherness, aka PYRFEECT, was its most ardent sponsor. The group sponsored years of family-oriented events, celebrating with parades, picnics, marches, plays, dances, workshops and educational opportunities. Mayfield says that “the festival has always served as a venue to educate and bring a multicultural purpose and feel to the community. This year will mark 20 years of observance. While PYRFEECT has been dissolved, its mission educating/uplifting/serving youth continues.
This year’s celebration will start at B&B Theatre, which will be screening “The Children’s March,” a story of how children can make a difference leading positive social change. The film will begin at 3 p.m. for children in grades four through 12. It is sponsored by Kids in Motion; for ticket information, contact Amy Vaughn at Douglass Community Services, 573-221-3892.
From 4 to 5 p.m., all are invited to a community scavenger hunt sponsored by Jim’s Journey; prizes will be awarded for first, second and third places.
The event will conclude at Jim’s Journey, 509 N. Third St., with museum tours, a soul food cooking demonstration and a cookout.
Coming together to bring to the community the Juneteenth event, free and open to the public, are B&B Theatres; Branson L. Wood, Attorney at Law; Continental Cement; Douglass School Reunion Committee; Douglass Community Services; and Jim’s Journey.
— By Faye Dant