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On June 19, the pews inside of the Scottsboro Boys Museum were crowded with members of the community. It was a somber celebration where community members paid tribute to the nine Scottsboro Boys during a candlelight vigil in honor of the Juneteenth holiday.

Juneteenth is national holiday celebrated to remember when the final slaves in America learned of their freedom in 1865. The holiday brought to light a remembrance of those who did not get to experience freedom and still fight for freedom every day. It was a freedom that the Scottsboro Boys did not get to celebrate as they were imprisoned without due process in 1931.

Sixty-six years after the first Juneteenth, the Scottsboro Boys were subject to segregation and Jim Crow Laws that did not recognize them as equal humans to whites. At the Juneteenth Celebration, William Hampton, Scottsboro Boys Museum board member, shared his and his family’s experiences with racism and how even in passing white women in the street, black men were required to move to the other side of the street and hold their heads down. 

Hampton gave an example of how hard it is to make major changes in society. He said enforcing change can be difficult even with something as simple as not using cell phones while driving. He said it was like that with desegregation and that the changes even reverberated to the present. It was “the shadows of racism and Jim Crow still cast in 2024” that Hampton encouraged attendees to become “agents of change.” 

Reverend Polly Robb compared Juneteenth to the Exodus of the Hebrew people. She said, “even when humanity falls short of honoring freedom, God always calls us back.”

“After 200 years of enslavement, God did not abandon the African American people,” and “Juneteenth provides us with a unique national moment in which we can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice,” Robb said.

Robb also said we still have work to do to make the world free from racism and cruelty. She then led a prayer for unity.

Executive Director of the Scottsboro Boys Museum, Dr. Thomas Reidy, spoke about why we should learn about Juneteenth and The Scottsboro Boys. He said if one is to call a friend and ask for directions, the first thing the friend would ask is, “Where are you?”

“This is the problem. If we don’t study the path or know where the journey started, we won’t know how to improve social justice because we won’t know where [the injustice] started,” Reidy said.

Before the candle-lighting ceremony began, Reidy encouraged the attendees to “listen to their voices.” As each candle was lit by a local child, another local child read a quote from each of the nine Scottsboro Boys.

Music at the ceremony was provided by award-winning saxophone artist, Alex Banks. Banks said he was thankful for Juneteenth and the freedom of the last slaves and that Juneteenth, “is a vital part of history that should be celebrated.”

To become a member of The Scottsboro Boys Museum and have access to over 1,300 museums and cultural centers around the country, please visit narmassociation.org or call 256.503.0439.