JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — In honor of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, the Johns Creek Historical Society presented a talk on local African American history.
The June 18 talk was led by Historical Society President Joan Compton and Board Member Kirk Canaday. Several members of the City Council also joined the call.
“I’m embarrassed to admit [Juneteenth] is a holiday I have only learned about probably in the last five years,” Councilwoman Erin Elwood said. “I thought this would be a great time for us all to understand the importance of Juneteenth and perhaps participate in our own way and talk about some of the African American history in our community, particularly in that time period of the 1850s and 1860s.”
Canaday recounted the history of Juneteenth celebrations. Although President Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation, the executive order ending slavery in Confederate states, in September 1862, it was several years before it was enacted.
June 19 became the primary day emancipation is celebrated because it is the day that Union troops announced the proclamation in Texas, the last Confederate state to be officially notified, two and a half years after Lincoln’s order became official.
Juneteenth is recognized by 47 states and celebrated in most major cities across America. Activists are pushing for it to become a national holiday.
“I’m really thankful to see that Georgia and Johns Creek have started to look at this holiday because it means a lot to most African American people,” Canaday said.
Understanding the history behind the holiday is important, he said.
Compton gave an overview of the history of Johns Creek, and the historians discussed the African American cemeteries within the city’s borders and what is known about enslaved people who worked the land.
“Our research here is just starting on African American history in the area,” Compton said.
One piece of Johns Creek African American history that has gained notoriety in recent years is the story of April Waters and the Macedonia African Methodist Church Cemetery.
The cemetery was originally part of a plantation owned by George Waters and the burial place of Waters family slaves. Throughout the 20th century the cemetery belonged to an African American church, which disbanded in the 1990s, leaving the cemetery to fall into disrepair.
April Waters is one of about 20 names identifiable on a tombstone at the gravesite, with a death date of Oct. 15, 1910 at age 65. The research of the Johns Creek Historical Society and April Waters’s descendants have revealed much about the man’s life.
April was a slave of George Waters, and although about 49 of George’s slaves were freed upon his death, April was not among them. He remained a slave until the end of the Civil War and then worked as a freedman around Duluth until his death.
The City of Johns Creek, the historical society and other volunteers are working to restore the cemetery, with some interest in transforming the site into a memorial garden.
Donations to help the restoration of the Macedonia Cemetery can be made at johnscreekhistory.org/. A recording of the entire Juneteenth event can be viewed on Facebook.