Liberation of Black Slaves to be Celebrated Thursday

It’s been 150 years since Columbus and Phenix City were seized by the Union Army, liberating slaves and signaling the end of the Civil War.

On Thursday, the Columbus Black Museum and Archives will lead an observance to commemorate the historic occasion. The event, titled “150 Years of Freedom,” will begin noon at the Consolidated Government Plaza, 100 10th Street.

Johnnie Warner, museum director, said April 16 was considered “Freedom Day” for slaves following the Civil War. While he invites people of all races to participate, he hopes black residents of the Chattahoochee Valley will join the observance and refrain from cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, crime, anger, unclean meats and unnecessary spending on the anniversary of their liberation. “Just stop what you’re doing that day and give honor and homage to God,” he said.

Thursday’s event will include participation from the local Jewish Community, according to Warner. A shofar will be blown, and the keynote speaker for the event will be Michael Goldman, president of the board of directors at Shearith Israel Synagogue.

Warner said he hopes to highlight the similarities between God’s deliverance of the Hebrew slaves and his liberation of those in the American South.

Slaves in Columbus and Girard, Ala., (now Phenix City) were freed in the spring of 1865 when Brevet Maj. General James Harrison Wilson led Federal troops through Alabama and into Georgia.According to information provided by Warner, the first Federal scouts appeared on the west bank of the Chattahoochee at about 2 p.m., April 16, 1865. There they found a force of black slaves making a last-ditch effort to “strengthen the earthworks.”

Federal troops made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Dillingham Bridge at about 3 p.m., according to Warner. Around 8 p.m., the 14th Street Bridge was seized and the Union troops crossed the bridge to capture Columbus.

“General Wilson made his headquarters at the Mott House on the Georgia side of the riverbank,” according to Warner. “Several slaves realized the Federal occupation was a sign of liberation and slipped quietly from their quarters to get a look at their liberators and to celebrate their freedom.

“On the morning of April 17, 1865, slaves made their way into the streets of Girard and Columbus dancing, singing, and questioning the Federal troops about the spoils that freedom would shortly bring,” said Warner.

For more information about the Freedom Day observance call 706-575-3646.

Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.