“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven”.
–Harriet Tubman, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman By Sarah Hopkins Bradford.
Advertisement for the capture of escaped slaves. The Delaware Gazette.
The words and actions of a woman, standing a mere 5’2” and born into slavery in Dorchester County in 1822, are consistently recalled in modern culture as a testament to her courageousness and resilience in the fight against slavery. After enduring a head injury at the Bucktown General Store, Harriet Tubman began experiencing vivid dreams and “visions from God” that compelled her to make 19 trips across the Mason-Dixon Line, helping over 300 enslaved men, women, and children escape to freedom in the Union States of the North. She served as a spy for the Union Army and was the first woman to ever lead a U.S. military operation at the Combahee River Raid.
Harriet Tubman helped over 300 enslaved men, women and children escape to freedom in the North. Image courtesy of the National Archives.
We celebrate Harriet Tubman’s incredible legacy, but don’t always consider the experience of 3.9 million enslaved African Americans and their journey to freedom. Abraham Lincoln declared the abolition of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation effective January 1, 1863—but the Civil War raged on, and it wasn’t until federal troops marched into Texas two years later to enforce the Proclamation that some of the last slave laborers were set free.
The Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to the enslaved but many did not gain their freedom until several years later. Image courtesy of the National Archives.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
—General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
This momentous day is known as Juneteenth. Despite the significance of this day, Americans are just becoming aware of the holiday. That will soon change if Phyllis “Tee” Adams has anything to say about it.
City leaders and organizers of the Annapolis Juneteenth Festival. Image courtesy of the Annapolis Juneteenth Facebook page.
Prone to vivid dreams herself, Phyllis woke up from one in particular in which she envisioned a large community festival located behind Maryland Hall at the Bates Athletic Complex. Phyllis set her intentions to retire and ride her motorcycle across the country with her husband, so taking on something like planning a festival seemed out of sorts for her timing in life. She didn’t think much more of it until she awoke with the word “Juneteenth” ringing in her ears on several occasions. Phyllis was not very familiar with the history of Juneteenth, but the thought persisted. When she recounted this sensation to a friend, the friend replied “Everything you touch turns to gold,” encouraging her to pursue the vision.
“I’ll look and if Juneteenth falls on a Saturday, maybe I’ll consider it,” Phyllis thought. Sure enough, she saw Saturday, June 19, 2021 on the calendar. On the day of her mother’s passing, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution to recognize Juneteenth in the City of Annapolis. Phyllis felt she had been given all the signs she needed.
The Annapolis Juneteenth Celebration will take place Saturday, June 19, 2021. Image courtesy of the Annapolis Juneteenth Festival.
“I said to the Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you, and I know you will see me through”
Harriet Tubman, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman By Sarah Hopkins Bradford.
Phyllis’s friend gave her $50 and told her to do something for herself with it. With that $50, Phyllis opened a bank account and the planning for the Inaugural Juneteenth Festival was underway. With the pandemic sidelining her travel plans, Phyllis began building the festival from the ground up, to what is now a VIP celebration, a parade leading from City Dock to Maryland Hall, followed by a music festival at the Bates Athletic Complex–the site in her dreams.
An advertisement of slaves to be sold at City Dock in Annapolis, MD. Image courtesy of the Maryland State Archives.
At City Dock, you can find a monument honoring Alex Haley, the writer of Pulitzer-prize winning novel Roots: The Saga of An American Family. Across the street, a medallion is placed in the sidewalk near the Market House, identifying the site where Kunta Kinte was sold into slavery in 1767 after being captured from his home in Gambia, Africa. Kunta Kinte was Haley’s ancestor and inspiration for the novel, which was later adapted into the iconic television mini-series. These sites are the country’s only memorials recognizing the name and point of entry for an enslaved person in America.
Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley memorial at City Dock in Annapolis. Image courtesy of the author.
The parade route starting at this historic landmark and marching toward the celebration of music and heritage at the Bates Complex (also rich in African American history) echoes the message behind the entire festival: honor the past while celebrating the future. Phyllis’s hope is to bring a diverse community together by offering free performances of local and national acts, a grand parade with dancers, floats, and performers, as well as a series of ceremonies honoring the history and significance of Juneteenth.
After this festival, Phyllis hopes no one in Annapolis needs to ask “What is Juneteenth?” After her work is done, she plans to celebrate by hitting the road on her motorcycle.