Oberlin Community Celebrates Juneteenth; Recalls Histories of Freedom


Kellianne Doyle

The Oberlin Gasholder Building, constructed in 1889 to store coal gas, will house the Underground Railroad museum.

Last weekend Oberlin community members and College students gathered together to celebrate Juneteenth in and around Tappan Square, where they enjoyed food trucks, music, and a parade. The event followed the official declaration of Juneteenth as a national holiday earlier this month, and provided a chance for the Oberlin community to reconnect after a year of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

For Reverend Albert G. Miller, a pastor at Oberlin House of the Lord Fellowship and former Oberlin College professor, education, community, and history are all at the heart of Juneteenth. 

“The issues of Juneteenth are multilayered, [and] there is a growing appreciation and understanding [of the holiday],” Miller said.

Juneteenth is an official commemoration of the struggle for Black liberation in this country. As Reverend Miller highlighted, the day is more than a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation; the Reverend referenced Frederick Douglas’ speech in 1852, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” where Douglas called Independence Day a sham. Instead, Juneteenth marks the moment where formerly enslaved people in Texas learned of their legal emancipation.

Miller told the story of his great-great grandfather, Charles Wheeler, who was a part of the 62nd Colored Infantry for the Union army. The Union tasked the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantries with recapturing a part of Texas, and they were present when General Gordon Granger announced the emancipation of enslaved people. 

Also present at Oberlin’s Juneteenth celebration was a booth representing the Oberlin Underground Railroad Center, where former students, friends, and strangers came to greet Jessi L. Reeder, an African American Oberlin resident and former vocal teacher in the Oberlin City Schools system. Reeder is currently chairperson of Oberlin Underground Railroad Center. Reeder was spreading awareness about the Underground Railroad Center that will be installed in the old Gasholder Building behind the McDonald’s on Main Street. The Underground Railroad Center will be an educational center that tells the story of Black history and Oberlin’s role in the Underground Railroad. Reeder was pleased that this year, for the first time, Juneteenth is celebrated as an officially-recognized national holiday. 

“I’m 86, so I’ve been waiting a long time. It’s like, hallelujah, it’s happened,” she said.