Jubilee Freedom Day is not a well-known holiday in Savannah, but one group is working hard to change that fact.
On Dec. 21, 1864, 225,000 Union Army troops arrived in Savannah to enforce President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that had been signed on Sept. 22, 1863. And while some may not know, that day became known as Jubilee Freedom Day to the former slaves and citizens of Savannah.
According to Patt Gunn, co-founder of the Center for Jubilee, Reconciliation and Healing, more people are familiar with the Juneteenth celebration each year that commemorates the day slaves in Texas found out they were free, but Jubilee Freedom Day is an important day for Savannah’s history. She hopes it will become a nationally recognized holiday that everyone in our nation will celebrate and honor.
“Our goal is to remember our history, but we are also committed to reconciliation and healing,” Gunn says. “We want to do some healing because this is not an easy story to revisit.”
This year’s Jubilee Celebration Day will take place from noon-7 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Cluskey Embankments across from Factor's Walk near 1 W. River St. The event features artists, speakers, freedom songs, hot beverages and more and is free and open to the public. The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Jubilee and Mt. Zion Greater Faith Apostolic Church.
The Cluskey Embankments were part of a project that began in 1840 near City Hall on the east along the Drayton Street ramp. Designed by architect Charles B. Cluskey, the construction was part of a larger public works project of the city of Savannah to build retaining walls all along the bluff above Factor's Walk and River Street to prevent erosion.
According to Gunn, many people believe these bins in the Cluskey Embankments were used to house slaves, though further research has to be done to prove that fact.
“We believe it to be true,” she adds. “We can feel their spirits there.”
During the event, Gunn says they will read aloud the names of the enslaved Africans from a slave manifest.
“This is all for the purpose of reconciliation and healing,” Gunn explains.
And each bin area will house different artists celebrating the day through spoken word, poetry and visual arts.
“We want people to embrace our Jubilee so it can be as nationally recognized as Juneteenth,” Gunn says. “The same soldiers that came to Savannah to free our slaves are the ones that went to Texas to spread the word of freedom.
“Our goal is for Savannah to be the ‘blue ribbon’ model of how you can embrace truth, reconcile and heal — and then you can have a history that represents all people of Savannah.”
There will also be a special exhibit at Sulfur Studios from Dec. 20-22 titled “Been in the Storm So Long” that complements the history of Jubilee in Savannah. The exhibit was curated by historians Eric Saul, Amy Fiske and Gunn and features a collection of historical photographs to provide more insight into the history of slavery in South Georgia and the Carolinas. The images in the exhibit are graphic so a mature audience is recommended.
There are limited viewing hours for the exhibit: 6-9 p.m. Dec. 20 is the opening reception, with additional viewing hours from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 22.