The Jepson Center is hosting a discussion on the Rev. George Liele’s impact on Savannah in the 1770s as part of Telfair Museums' annual Juneteenth programs.

“This year I am looking forward to the Juneteenth lecturer Miguel Lorne and the focus on the diaspora connections between Savannah, Ga., and Kingston, Jamaica, through the work of Rev. George Liele. After baptizing the founders of what became the First African Baptist Church, Rev. Liele left Savannah and went to Kingston, Jamaica,” says Vaughnette Goode-Walker, founder of Telfair’s Juneteenth programs and guest curator.

The lecture, “The Journey of Rev. George Liele: From Savannah Baptist to Rastafari,” will be at 6 p.m. June 8 at the Jepson Center. Admission is free.

That event is followed by Juneteenth Free Family Day from 1-4 p.m. June 9. The day features storytelling by Jamal Toure and Queen Quet, as well as family-friendly activities and crafts, demos by artists Sabree and Gregory Grant, a presentation by Pin Point Heritage Museum, and a 3 p.m. concert by the renowned Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters.

At the lecture, Lorne, a Jamaican-based scholar, will recount the story that directly connects our community to Jamaica. Lorne is the first international lecturer for the Juneteenth programming at Telfair.

 

Born a slave in Virginia, Liele was later brought to Savannah, where in 1773 he was converted in the church of Henry Sharp, his master. After a growing concern over the spiritual condition of his fellow slaves, Liele began visiting neighboring plantations along the Savannah River and preaching to the slaves. He became ordained as a missionary in 1775 and continued to work among the African-American population in the Savannah area.

When Liele immigrated to Jamaica, along with his wife and his four children, he became the first Baptist missionary there, and his teachings formed the basis of Rastafari faith. As a slave, then a free man, Liele’s story is not without challenges, harassment, and opposition from his counterparts — all of which will be explored in Lorne’s lecture.

This is the 12th year Telfair Museums have celebrated Juneteenth through presentations of culture, storytelling and performance.

“It’s particularly important for Telfair to recognize Juneteenth because the museum interprets the history of slavery and freedom in Savannah at our Owens-Thomas House site, including major new interpretation programs and exhibits that will open this coming fall,” says Harry DeLorme, Telfair's senior curator of education.

“More broadly, African-American history is the history of our country and the past has obviously influenced the present that we all live in. Juneteenth is incredibly meaningful and emotional for African Americans, but it’s something that all Americans should be aware of and learn from. It celebrates the resilience of people and culture, but it carries a larger message about freedom,” he said.

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” recognizes that on June 19, 1865, remaining slaves in the United States were emancipated. This, coming two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, serves as a reminder that the end of slavery was indeed a process. The Civil War ended in April 1865, but many Texas landowners forced slaves to work through another harvest. It was not until June 19 that troops arrived in Texas to declare that the slaves were free.

Today, Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday in 45 states, while many continue to push for it to become a national holiday. In Savannah, Telfair Museums joins the community to celebrate and recognize a day when everybody was free.