GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Gallia County held its 158th Emancipation Day Celebration last weekend, noting the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared the freedom of all people held in slavery.
The county had previously been recognized as the longest, continuous event celebrating the historic legislation, in the country. For organizers, it’s just about keeping history alive.
“I think that a lot of times people tend to forget,” said Andrew Gilmore, Emancipation Committee president. “After so many years of not celebrating our freedom, not celebrating the fact that once we were enslaved people and by Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, it freed us to the point that when we started in 1863 there was a celebration.”
Gilmore said it is an honor to continue this celebratory tradition.
“Even Black soldiers came back from [the] Civil War to celebrate here in Gallia County,” Gilmore said. “We’ve been keeping it, our fathers and forefathers have been keeping it going ever since 1863 and we feel like it’s quite an honor and we’re very proud of the fact that we have put it on consecutively for 158 years.”
Gilmore said it was originally thought Juneteenth was the longest similar celebration, but word of the declaration did not get to Texas until two years later in 1865.
“We started in 1863, really what it was, Gallia County was the first and down in Texas is Juneteenth was last, it was kind of like bookends. With the Emancipation being the first and they didn’t get word in Texas until [two] years later,” Gilmore said.
Each year, Saturday is kid’s day with various activities for children to participate in and Sunday is more of a church service with guest speakers in the afternoon.
The reenactments and various historical activities help the children delve deeper into the history, according to Gilmore.
“I think they learn a little of their history,” Gilmore said “Usually we have reenactors that reenact Abraham Lincoln, reenact Frederick Douglass, reenact Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman… A lot of those people aren’t in the history books that kids have now and actually seeing Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, people reenacting those figures, they can become our heroes.”
Not only do children of all ages get a first-hand look at the history of the United States, but conversations open up, Gilmore said.
“Kids are curious anyway, their minds take in everything and I think this is good for them, Black and white,” Gilmore said.
Saturday’s entertainment included special music from The Unit Band WV, Lawrence R. Greene and Company — African drum and dance, a Fifth Regiment U.S. Colored Troops reenactment and various children’s television characters and activities.
Sunday celebrated with a church service with special music from Paint Creek Praise Team and Angela Young, a sermon from Rev. Calvin Minnis, Corinth Missionary Baptist Church and keynote speaker Michael Davis, head of recreation of the Ohio Department of Corrections.
Gilmore said this event would not be possible without community support.
“I just appreciate the support that our local sponsors, people, businesses, and the newspaper, and the Gallia County commissioners and the city commissioners, they’ve all supported this very well throughout the years,” Gilmore said. “I’ve been doing this now for 22 years as president and they’ve supported us every year. I’m just proud of our community.”
This year’s event was dedicated to past Emancipation Board Members Luella Henry and Bill Jackson who passed since the last event. Also, the late Gerald Smith and Clyde Evans were also recognized as people who had been heavily involved in the Emancipation events.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 celebration was held virtually.
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Brittany Hively is a staff writer with Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (740) 444-4303 ext 2555.