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Juneteenth marked with stories, music

June 22, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

SHARPSBURG -- Songs, story telling and lectures marked the celebration Sunday of Juneteenth at Antietam National Battlefield.

The annual holiday commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, and park ranger Stephanie Gray said the Sharpsburg battlefield has hosted a celebration for the past few years.

About 40 people were expected to attend, Gray said. She attributed the crowd of just eight listening to Judy Cook's "Songs of Emancipation" to the Father's Day holiday and nice weather.

Gray said it seemed natural for the battlefield to begin hosting the Juneteenth celebration, which takes its name from June 19, 1865 -- the day Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves.

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"We talk about the Emancipation Proclamation every day of the year," Gray said.

The document was signed following the Battle of Antietam, on Sept 17, 1862.

On Sunday, Cook, a folksinger, sang and discussed the historical importance of music associated with the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement.

Edie Wallace, a local historian, gave a lecture on Tolson's Chapel, a landmark of the emancipation, which was a "Freedman's School" and a house of worship.

Sunday's event also included a lecture by a leading scholar of the Emancipation Proclamation, LaTonya Thames Taylor, who spoke about how the relationship between President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was a factor in the molding of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Antietam National Battlefield partnered with the National Juneteenth Museum Without Walls to present the program.

David and Roxy Wells, who live in northern Pennsylvania, said they did not know about the Juneteenth celebration before arriving Sunday. They only had time to listen to a portion of Cook's performance before taking a tour of the battlefield.

"It was very nice," Roxy said. "I wish I could stay and listen to the singing."

The couple were making their way to Washington, D.C., Sunday and stopped at Antietam. They had stopped at Gettysburg, Pa., the day before.

Jayne Fontes and Charlie Smith, of Massachusetts, also were passing through, and said they stopped at the battlefield Sunday for the first time.

Both said they were interested in learning about the history of the area and the battle.

Ron Keilholtz, of Mont Alto, Pa., said he chose to spend Father's Day at the battlefield because he enjoys Civil War history.

"And it's free," he said.

Keilholtz attended Sunday with his wife, Chris, and their son, Josh.

It's the first time the family had gone to the battlefield. They said they planned to take a tour and learn about the history of the battle.

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