Dr. Joanne Martin, co-founder and president of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland continues one of the museum’s missions “to stimulate an interest in African American history by revealing the little-known, often neglected facts of history.” July 9, 2023 will mark the museum’s 40th anniversary. 

Dr. Joanne Martin, Co-founder/President of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum

While some patrons visit in-person to see wax figures located at 1601-03 East North Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland, a virtual history webinar—“From Ring-Shout to Juneteenth,” will be held on Monday, June 19, 2023 at 11 a.m. without needing to leave the comfort of your home. 

Martin provides insight about Juneteenth and other freedom holidays, ahead of the informative event.

“Juneteenth is the most popular freedom celebration. It’s not the first and that’s information in terms of the history that we want people to know. It’s an important celebration and it represents, when in 1865 troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to alert the slaves that slavery had been abolished. So, people consider this to be significant because of the whole idea that the Civil War was over, but these people had no notion that they were free and were still being held in slavery, illegally, actually. And so, people have found that story, so compelling and it occurred on June 19 [in 1865],” Martin said.

She reminded that in Maryland, many people refer to Jubilee Day, Freedom Day and Emancipation Day to signify the time when people were free in the state and in some others. This occurred before Juneteenth.

Emancipation Day, Richmond, Va. [c1905]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

“During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed slaves in Confederate states but not in the Union state of Maryland. Indeed, Maryland’s Constitution of 1851 had forbidden passage of “any law abolishing the relation of master or slave, as it now exists in this State” (Art. 3, sec. 43). To end slavery, Maryland had to write a new constitution,” according to information provided by the Maryland State Archives’ website.

A third state constitution abolished slavery in Maryland. It did not go into effect until November 1, 1864.

“This was a year after the Emancipation Proclamation and there were some states that declared slavery abolished when Abraham Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation. There were some states like Maryland that declared slavery abolished on a particular day and celebrated that day,” Martin also said.

The historian continued by stating that “when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he said that it would become official on January 1, New Year’s Day.”

Source Image: Heard & Moseley, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (reproduction no. LC-DIG-ppmsca-10980)

“President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free,”” per information provided by The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Martin said that this is the reason why Watch Night Services became known to be a celebratory time in Black churches. 

“The Watch Night service typically begins around 7 pm on December 31 and lasts through midnight, as faith leaders guide congregants in praise and worship. Many congregants across the nation bow in prayer minutes before the midnight hour as they sing out “Watchman, watchman please tell me the hour of the night,” according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The minister’s reply included a countdown to freedom arriving for the purpose of blessing “their transition into the new year.”

Martin stated that Watch Night has been very prominent in the Methodist Church. It spread to other churches. Food, singing and praise were included.

“That was something that happened in the Black churches during the slavery era and continues today, because it is very much grounded in tradition,” Martin said.

Ring shouts, a way of worshiping in traditional Black churches, is another point Martin mentioned.

“Spirituals also stem from the “ring shout,” a shuffling circular dance to chanting and handclapping that was common among early plantation slaves,” according to the Library of  Congress.

The Old Plantation
 ca. 1785-1795. watercolor on paper, attributed to John Rose, Beaufort County, South Carolina. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art MuseumWilliamsburg, Virginia, (Image in the public domain)

Martin noted that the tradition emerged when the drum was outlawed by slave masters, fearing it was communication that would lead to enslaved people running away. Black people had to find different ways of creating a good percussion sound that the drum provided while holding on to an African tradition and communication of aspects of drums.

“They use sticks in particular. There was a rhythm to it,” Martin said.

Another point Martin mentioned was that Pinkster started out as a Dutch holiday that has been recognized as an African American holiday.

“It was a day that we could celebrate in the ways that we celebrate with African drumming, singing and dancing and so forth,” Martin said.

Originally a Dutch festival, Pinkster is a celebration of spring’s arrival and a time of rest to be enjoyed among friends and family, according to the National Parks service.

Martin, who offers a wealth of knowledge, wants people to sign up for the webinar to learn more about African American celebrations that were held for various reasons. Online registration for the webinar is required. Interested attendees can make them before 11 a.m. on June 19, 2023 via https://www.greatblacksinwax.org/events.

A video will be shown. A Q & A period will follow. Children and adults are welcome.

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