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‘There were four million people thinking...is this real?’ The meaning behind Juneteenth

Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 11:32 PM EDT
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LIBERTY COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - A Liberty County historian is keeping the name of Susie King Taylor alive.

King-Taylor was born into slavery in Liberty County and grew up in Savannah in the 1800s.

Escaping to her freedom at only 12 years old, she eventually became the first teacher of freed slaves. There’s even a school in Savannah named after her.

While the country officially recognizes Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time, Hermina Glass-Hill, executive director of the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center, shares the life of Susie King Taylor from slavery to freedom.

She said the legacy of King-Taylor shouldn’t be sanitized and as more people learn about her, one day everyone will remember her name.

Hermina Glass-Hill said: “Our Harriet Tubman from Georgia...her name is Susie King Taylor and not many people know about her.”

From Hinesville to Midway, Susie King Taylor’s story tells itself.

“Traveling on a road that she would have traveled on. To walk and drive on the grounds that she would’ve driven on....This was intentional... freedom was intentional,” Glass-Hill said.

She wasn’t free on this land. It’s the plantation she was born into slavery.

“The Isle of Wight is a small isle surrounded by water in Midway, but it was large enough to be a plantation, Susie King Taylor’s owner Valentine Grest owned 26 slaves.”

For slaves like King-Taylor, trying to find a way out was risky.

“It’s a process...who’s going to go, when will we leave? Will it be midnight? Will we take food with us?”

Glass-Hill said: “Susie King Taylor’s Juneteenth would be on her feet. On April 13th, freedom would come by escaping...by running to the nearest river.”

“That just reminds me of an old negro song...I opened my mind to the Lord and I won’t turn back...I will go, I shall go, to see what the end’s going to be. [Susie King Taylor] didn’t know what the end was going to be.”

King-Taylor got to Camp Saxton, one of the first African American regiments, located in Beaufort, South Carolina, when she heard the first emancipation proclamation that slaves were finally free.

“There were four million people thinking is this real? All of their hopes and dreams of becoming free it begins.”

Glass-Hill said: “Juneteenth is so important. It is about unity. It is about remembering. Sometimes we have to stop and ask ourselves, what are we remembering? These are the types of stories we are remembering.”

After the emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, it still took nearly two and a half years for the final slave to find out they were already free. The news reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.

You can visit the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute & Ecology Center in Hinesville to learn the full history.

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