Phyllis Wheatley by Moorhead
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is an annual observance of Union soldiers enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing all remaining American slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865—more than two and one-half years after emancipation had been ordered by President Lincoln!
In Galveston, Texas, the newly freed slaves held large public celebrations, laying the base for future Juneteenth activities. (The word ‘Juneteenth’ resulted from the words ‘June Nineteenth’ being blended in speech). Today Juneteenth is a state holiday or observance in more than half of the U.S. states and there is a campaign for Juneteenth to become a national holiday or observance throughout the nation.
Juneteenth is a great time to honor African American artists from the 19th century whose work inspires us to this day:
One of the earliest significant black fine artists was an African slave, Scipio Moorhead, who was a poet and painter (c. 1773). Owned by Rev. John Moorhead from Boston, and taught to draft and paint by Moorhead’s wife, Sarah (an artist and teacher), Scipio became well known in Boston as an artist. He was commissioned by Phillis Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book of poems, to execute her portrait. (Taken from the frontispiece of her book, the image is actually an etching of the original by Moorhead).