A Lexington cemetery honors Civil War heroes with Juneteenth Jubilee

Lexington community members gathered Saturday for the 19th annual Juneteenth Jubilee, a ceremony recognizing African Americans’ service in the Civil War.

The ceremony was held at African Cemetery No. 2, the resting place of many Civil War veterans.

Attendees stood as the ceremony was opened with the posting of American and regimental flags by the United States Colored Troops and 12th Heavy Artillery Regiment.

Lonnie Brown, a corporal for the 12th Heavy Artillery Regiment, said he has been involved with the organization since its formation in 2005.

He said his unit is a “historical and educational outreach unit.”

They participate in multiple events around the state, speak in schools and perform reenactments.

Brown said one of their major missions is public outreach.

“We take pride in telling the story, telling the history of not only African Americans, but again, American history. It’s your history. It’s my history. It’s everybody’s history,” Brown said.

The event showcased speakers who educated the audience about the history of both free and enslaved Black service members.

One of the speakers, Mark Watkins, in light of Juneteenth, provided an in-depth history of Lewis and Harriet Hayden.

The Haydens were enslaved in Lexington and became leading abolitionists who crossed the Ohio River for their freedom.

The Lexington Freedom Train is working on building a monument at the corner of Fourth and Limestone streets to honor the Haydens and Lexington’s Underground Railroad. The project is expected to be completed by May 2025.

Watkins also shed light on the blurred narrative of African Americans’ participation in the war.

He said he couldn’t imagine African Americans fighting for the Union until eighth grade when he watched the movie “Glory,” representing members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army.

“It changed my life forever, because then I saw people like me, people who look like me, fought for the Union, fought for the freedom of every single American citizen, and it gave me a place in history,” Watkins said.

Yvonne Giles, a member of the cemetery board and leader of the event, said the event is centered around education.

She said the Jubilee is focused on telling the story of the soldiers rather than participating in a more typical “fun” setting for a Juneteenth event.

“For Juneteenth, ours (the event) has always been very dedicated to the men who fought,” Giles said.

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