South Carolina Parish Commemorates End of Slavery

Rebecca Doel In the Headlines

GREENVILLE, S.C. — More than 200 members of St. Anthony of Padua Church gathered with friends and community members June 19 to celebrate Juneteenth, a worldwide holiday marking the end of slavery.

For St. Anthony’s, where Patrick Tuttle, OFM, is pastor, it was the fourth consecutive celebration of the day at the parish, commemorating not only African-American freedom but also emphasizing education and achievement.

The event included a variety of prayer, speeches, African drum rites, poem readings, a Gospel play and homilette, dinner, music and dancing, according to Patrick, who acted as disc jockey for the evening, occasionally joining in to dance.

“Juneteenth is the African-American community’s way of preventing a slip back into various forms of slavery from happening,” Pat said. “It is an awareness raising, a celebration of emancipation, and a sober remembering that Texas held off an entire growing and harvesting season past the Emancipation Proclamation to honor the nation’s law.”

According to the program distributed at the parish’s Juneteenth celebration, the occasion is the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. “Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.”

Still, some view Juneteenth as a painful reminder of the past. It is not celebrated at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Columbia, S.C., where 98 percent of the 350 families are African-American.

Pastor Paul Williams, OFM, said, “For many blacks, this is just another painful reminder of those sad and bitter years when African-Americans were enslaved by fellow Christians — both Catholics and Protestants — for economic gains.” Paul said many instead embrace a celebration of freedom on July 4.

“For many years after the Civil War until after World War II,” he said, “many white southerners refused to celebrate Independence Day. However, in the black community, it was a day of great jubilation.”

The photo above and rear collage photos were taken from a Picasa gallery by Marcel Farge, a parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua.

— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.