Today Is Juneteenth — Here's What That Means and Where to Celebrate

Gilmore Cabin, James Madison Montpelier Estate
Photo: Courtesy of James Madison Montpelier Estate

Today, June 19, otherwise known as Juneteenth, marks an important day in American history. In fact, to many, it is considered the country's true Independence Day.

As Forbes explained, Juneteenth marks the day in Texas in 1865 when 250,000 enslaved people were liberated — despite the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation was actually signed years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863. Major General Charles Gordon Granger arrived on this day in Galveston, Texas to inform the community (two years late) that President Abraham Lincoln had freed the nation's slaves and to enforce that decision. There is no definitive explanation for the delay, according to the Juneteenth website.

It is a day that many in the nation may be unaware of, despite the fact that on Jan. 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. This naiveté makes it all the more important to spread the word and celebrate. And there may be no better place to reflect on this important moment in history than at Gilmore Cabin.

The cabin, Garden & Gun explained, sits on the vast estate in Virginia known as Montpelier, which was once the home of President James Madison. There, visitors can not only tour the former president's home, but they can pay homage to the people who were once enslaved there as well.

You see, George Gilmore, who was a farmer and carpenter in Virginia, and was once enslaved by Madison himself, built a cabin on the land out of the remnants of Confederate officers' huts, according to Garden & Gun. At first, Gilmore was a tenant of that cabin, according to the African American Historic Site Database. But following the death of James A. Madison, the great-nephew of President Madison, in 1901, Gilmore purchased the building and 16.1 acres of land.

There, he raised his family and tended to his plot. But following their deaths, the years took a toll on the cabin, and it was nearly destroyed by mother nature herself.

Gilmore Cabin, James Madison Montpelier Estate
Courtesy of James Madison Montpelier Estate

However, in 2001, when the rest of Montpelier was getting a revamp, Gilmore's great-granddaughter, Rebecca Gilmore Coleman, petitioned the estate to restore her family's cabin too, and they agreed. The cabin became known as "the first freedman's site in the United States."

Now, people can tour the Gilmore family's cabin and also tour other reconstructed slave quarters and the multimedia exhibit "The Mere Distinction of Colour," which, as Garden & Gun describes, "confronts the contradictions and atrocities of slavery."

Visitors are welcome to wander the entire estate each day. They can choose from a variety of tours, including the "Montpelier's Enslaved Community" tour, which "examines one of America's largest paradoxes: a nation where 'all men are created equal' built by those who are denied the exact freedoms they were laboring to establish," according to Montpelier's website.

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