National News

Rainy weather not enough to stop Juneteenth

Posted June 29

— A sparse crowd braved the pounding rain Saturday to celebrate African freedom at the annual Juneteenth Celebration and Music Festival held at Arnold Park.

The three-hour, water-drenched celebration was organized by Sen. Gail Davenport and hosted by the Clayton County Black History Center. Davenport serves as executive director.

The inclement weather did not give Davenport and the Black History Center members a nudge to postpone the event. "I believe it is important for everyone to know about Juneteenth and I am grateful to the citizens of Clayton County for embracing this event and participating in it," Davenport said.

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, was started by Davenport about 14 or 15 years ago at Arnold Park in Jonesboro to show the significance of the day and bring an awareness of Juneteenth. "Although this was the eleventh year, several years we did not have the celebration but we plan to continue celebrating annually," she said.

This weekend's event featured old-school music that was expressed by Eddie 'Dee Jay Country' Kitchens, a line-up of gospel music artists, a dance team composed of current and former students from Riverdale High School, and story teller Lisa Smith who spun a yarn about life and living in Alabama.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner extended greetings and gave an impromptu rendition of the Black gospel song, "There's a Leak in This Old Building." He then spoke to the crowd, singling out children in particular.

"It's so important to hold this event every year," Turner said, "to keep situations like we've experienced from happening again. We don't want to repeat the atrocities of the past."

Rep. Sandra Scott followed with a song of her own. She then challenged children to learn more about Juneteenth Day.

An historic bell, located at nearby Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church, rang out during a ceremony led by the Rev. Donald K. Reed Sr., church pastor.

"We ring the freedom bell to start the celebration," Davenport said. "This symbolizes our freedom from slavery and we remember those who have gone before us."

Free take-home food was available to persons attending the event, furnished by Community Outreach In Action Inc. Free hamburgers and hot dogs were grilled for festival-goers and served along with snacks and refreshments by the celebration's host.

When the rain slackened, visitors shucked their rain coats and caps and engaged in wholehearted conversations that were filled with back-slaps and laughter.

As Davenport began her welcome speech, she asked kids that were standing at the apron of the stage if they knew about Juneteenth. The children responded in unison with a loud and long, "Noooooo!"

Children were told the importance of the celebration as she read an account of Juneteenth that was printed on the back of the program.

History has recorded the deeds of Maj. General Gordon Granger as he landed at Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 with news that the Civil War was over and that slaves were declared free. Texas is said to have been the last slave-holding state to celebrate its emancipation.

This happened two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, but there were too few Union troops in Texas at the time to enforce the order. This left over a quarter million blacks in captivity in Texas.

Slavery remained in Southern states after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, but came to an end at various times between 1863 and 1865. "My Juneteenth in my home state of Florida is May 20, 1865," Shanrae' Cheree' Price, a vocalist, announced from stage as she and her group began their singing performance.

Juneteenth is a combination of the words June and nineteenth in reference to the date that slaves were freed in Texas.

"The celebration is a family event," Davenport said. "I am so thrilled with the success of this year's event, having Showtime on the Main Stage, local artists paying tribute in song to fathers during the Gospel Hour with faith leaders participating, upcoming rappers and African storytellers performing. It's awesome to see young people having a good time and eating good food, homemade ice cream and watermelon, in a safe environment and learning about our history," Davenport said.

And speaking of ice cream, Davenport said, "One of our senior citizens and longtime Jonesboro residents Catherine Starr and her daughter Angerla Starr Turnipseed made a big hit with their homemade ice cream."

The intermittent rain did not dampen Davenport's enthusiasm about this year's event. "This was indeed a successful Juneteenth event, even with inclement weather. But we are now planning for next year's celebration," Davenport said

Sponsors for the event were Georgia Power Company, Mack II, Sam's Club, Publix Supermarkets, Clayton County Parks and Recreation, Clayton County Sheriff Department, Community Outreach in Action, and EK Productions. The videographer, Jeff Murphy, won the $50 Cash Money Tree during the raffle.

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