Darlington County Historical Commission: Amy Spain, “Juneteenth”
By Brian Gandy
Darlington County Historical Commission
Welcome to my monthly column. I’m very excited about this opportunity and look forward to the historical information I will be able to share about the people, places, and events relating to Darlington County history.
Today, I want to take a look at the African American Freedom Celebration – Juneteenth. This celebration was born in Texas in the years after the Civil War. The news of emancipation and the end of the War took two years to reach the slaves of Texas. This was largely due to the lack of Federal troops within the state and slow communication. When the news finally reached the general population, it was cause for the newly freed slaves to celebrate. From this day forward, they would no longer be slaves. With the shackles of slavery removed, they were now able to stand proudly as free men, women, and children. Juneteenth was established to celebrate this new freedom and over the years it has become a celebration of culture.
The troubles of this period did not evade us here in Darlington County. Our local history has a dark thread that runs through this period and is tied to March 1865. Amy Spain, a 17-year-old slave in the service of a local attorney, A. C. Spain, was executed for “crimes.” Having had the trust and favor of Mr. Spain, he served as her council during the trial. He had this to say about Amy; “Amy’s temper was hot, hasty, and ungovernable, yet to me, as her master, she was always dutiful up to the unfortunate time when she exhibited traits of character, adopted a line of conduct, used expressions, and committed acts which contributed to the violent termination of her existence at the early age of seventeen.” What was her crime? Upon seeing Federal troops passing through Darlington, she expressed with excitement and joyful proclamation that the “Yankees have come!” She then took possession of some of her master’s household possessions and claimed them as her own, citing that the fruits of slavery now belonged to the freed slaves.
Shortly after the Union troops moved on towards Florence, Confederate troops returned and began to reestablish “order.” It was during this period that Amy was captured, tried, and hung. It is said that she bravely met her fate with eyes on Heaven.
This snippet of local history reaffirms the difficulties of the period… I have said before that there were no victors in the Civil War. Amy, as an emancipated slave, never knew freedom and, though she helped freedom’s cause by giving her own life, that is not a victory. Many brag that the North won at the expense of the South, yet that victory was so hollow that it cannot be called a victory. If there is a victory, I think it is freedom and its price was borne on the lives of both the North and the South.
I had someone ask me why I would celebrate Juneteenth. My reply was simple. “I cannot change history and I am unwilling to rewrite it. What I can do is live in such a way as to strengthen our community, honor our accomplishments, build bridges to heal old wounds and to teach truth.”
So on June 18, you will find me in Hartsville at Pride Park from 3 – 8 p.m. celebrating Freedom and Culture. I invite you to join me as I participate and remember those people like Amy Spain that were never able to enjoy the blessings of freedom, despite being able to see it.
The Darlington County Historical Commission is located at 204 Hewitt Street, Darlington, SC. We are open Monday through Friday from 9-5 PM and can be reached at 843-398-4710.