August 8 activities include Remembrance of Slaves, Jubilee at Walter Hardy Park

Carol Z. Shane

Reverend Renee Kesler, Executive Director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, is known to be enthusiastic and energetic; she is, after all, a professional speaker.

And she’s genuinely excited about the upcoming jubilee of August 8, offering family entertainment, food and festivities commemorating the date Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson freed his own slaves – months after the proclamation emancipation by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1. 1863.

But she becomes solemn when she talks about the fundamental observance of the two-day celebration – the libation ceremony at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 8, at the historic Freedmen Mission cemetery, maintained by the Fourth Presbyterian Church at Knoxville College. , where three former slaves people – Liz, Florence and William – are buried.

They are the children of Dolly and the nieces and nephew of Sam Johnson, founder of the August 8 celebration. All five were emancipated on August 8, 1863.

Former Tennessee State Representative, Knoxville City Councilor, local civil rights icon and former Beck Center executive director Robert Booker joins current executive director Reverend Renee Kesler on stage at the event August 8, 2019 red carpet at the Tennessee Theater.  August 2019.

“Libation” ceremony?

Kesler explains, “If you’ve ever seen a video with some of the rappers, they drink and they tip the friends; they make this gesture. It’s rooted in African tradition, honoring the legacy you came from and making sure you never forget it.

The Reverend Alan Jones, former pastor of Asbury-Clinton United Methodist Church and artist who paints under the pseudonym “Theophilus”, will officiate at the ceremony. Absent this year will be Ned Arter, great-great-grandson of Sam Johnson who until the pandemic year had never missed August 8 in Knoxville.

“This year he’s got some health issues and he’s not traveling,” Kesler says, “but I talked to him and he said,“ I’m so glad you do.

There will also be plenty of rowdy fun for all ages.

“We’re having the Jubilee – a day of family fun, if you will – at Dr. Walter Hardy Park because I want to make sure we can space out appropriately. The activities will start at noon and the opening show will be Kelle Jolly. His music will really set the mood for the day. Jazz artist Brian Clay will close the celebration.

Divine Urban Expressions performs during the August 8 Libation for Liberation celebration at Danny Mayfield Park in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday August 8, 2020. The festival celebrated the importance of black art to the civil rights movement across music, dance, speech and Suite.  Historically, August 8 was celebrated as Emancipation Day in eastern Tennessee after Civil War military governor Andrew Johnson freed his slaves on August 8, 1863.

“Many sellers will be pop-up shops owned by blacks. MarathonXtreme Game Truck will be on hand for the kids. They go inside and play virtual games. Kesler laughs. “I don’t know what it is, but they do! “

There will also be an African-centric children’s fashion show, and Austin-East students and brothers Ryan and LoRen Seagrave will perform “Sticks and Stones” from their National Speech and Debate Association competition.

“There is something for everyone. You can go shopping, you can listen to music, your children can play. People can come and go as they please.

There is also an event on Sunday afternoon on the lawn of the Beck Center, featuring vendors, gospel performers and dynamic inspirational lyrics from Pastor Leah Burns, Reverend Charles Lomax, Reverend Harold Middlebrook and of the elder Frankie Slay. Bishop Farris Long will chair the event.

But the Sunday morning liberation ceremony is at the heart of it all.

“We never did an August 8 without first paying homage to the ancestors, honoring them at this burial place,” Kesler said. “Those who came before us – these are the shoulders we stand on. ”

For a full list of activities at the Beck Center for Cultural Exchange for August 8, visit

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