‘Ode to Juneteenth’ at Witte Museum conveys compelling tale of freedom

Three performances on tap June 19 at the Witte Museum

'Ode to Juneteenth' at Witte Museum conveys compelling tale of freedom
'Ode to Juneteenth' at Witte Museum conveys compelling tale of freedom

SAN ANTONIO – “Ode to Juneteenth,” a freed slave’s story of celebration and hope, will be showcased by the Witte Museum on that very day, June 19, also known as Freedom Day.

Three performances -- at 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. -- at the Witte’s Memorial Auditorium are included in the general admission to the museum, which costs $14 for adults and $10 for children.

Eugene Lee, an artist in residence at Texas State University who is also an actor and nationally known playwright, was commissioned by the Witte Museum to take on the project for San Antonio’s Tricentennial.

Lee’s one-man play, “Ode to Juneteenth,” has been performed at the Witte since its premiere in 2018.

“I’m honored and excited to amplify this moment in American history,” Lee said. “I’m watching this celebration resonate throughout the country and even the world now.”

Jeremy Bilbo, who works at the Witte Museum as an “interactor,” portraying historical figures interacting with museum visitors, plays Emancipation Jones, the Texas slave who tells the audience, “I took June 19, 1865, as my birthday. Juneteenth! I claimed it.”

Bilbo said when he was given the play, “To be honest, I knew of Juneteenth, but I didn’t really know what it was.”

He quickly learned it was the day Texas finally learned that slaves had been freed more than two years earlier.

In his “Ode to Juneteenth,” Emancipation Jones says, “Juneteenth is a celebration filled with hope, h-o-p-e, how our people evolved.”

Bilbo said a passage sums up what Lee wanted to convey. His character says, “Come a long way from the auction block, the whip and the rope. Hope for equality because we still got chains. Still seen as just a free slave, less than equal, no matter the gains. Yoked to that image, still fighting that battle. Big boats turn so slow. We’re people, not cattle.”

Lee said African-Americans should be proud of how far they have come, even now as challenges remain.

“The play was really intended to be a celebration and one that we can all share in,” Lee said. “It doesn’t pose guilt on anybody or blame necessarily, not directly, but a celebration.”

WATCH ON DEMAND: KSAT Juneteenth Town Hall

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Bill Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.