Juneteenth, not just a memory

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 19, 2006

This past Saturday wasn’t just another day for a handful of Demopolis residents.

As they gathered in the Demopolis Public Library, approximately 20 area citizens took their minds back to a place in the past, centered themselves in the life they have today and remembered what it took to get there.

The cause for reflection was the library’s first Juneteenth celebration to recognize the end of slavery on June 19, 1865.

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“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Major Gen. Gordon Granger told the slaves that day. “This involves an absolute equality of the United States and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

After hearing those words, the free men ran into the streets to rejoice and celebrate their rights.

On Saturday, Demopolis residents recognized the moment with songs, speeches, and poetry.

“It went great, but as always I just wish more people were there,” event coordinator Connie Lawson said. “Everything was beautiful.”

Head librarian Lindsy Gardner gave the welcome, followed by a prayer led by the Rev. Thomas Harris, and a solo from Hobart Braxton.

Lauren Large read a poem, which Lawson said “couldn’t have been a better choice” for the occasion and Julia H. Foster discussed prominent health issues in the community. Wrapping up the program was guest speaker Mary Jones-Fitts, a genealogy researcher who gave a thorough explanation on the importance of Juneteenth.

Valissa Sams sang a final solo and Lawson thanked the crowd before enjoying refreshments.

“That day people began to celebrate and cherish their freedom, and we’ve gotten away from that. So, we are trying to bring it back and recreate a historical moment in a sense, ” Lawson said as she prepared for the event. “It’s just a part of history that we want to share with the citizens of Demopolis.”

The librarian’s only hopes that more people will choose to share the opportunity next year.