Celebrating Juneteenth

Published 11:52 am Monday, June 23, 2008

DEMOPOLIS &8212; Joining with many other groups and organizations across the country, a gathering of area residents made Thursday a time to remember the past and reflect on the future at the Juneteenth Celebration at the Demopolis Public Library.

While the highlight of the celebration may have been the blues sounds of performer Ace Jones, the evening was also about a more somber, but relevant topic: slavery and race. Guest speaker Barrown Lankster gave brief history of slavery in the United States and its implications in today&8217;s society.

Lankster explained the term &8220;Juneteenth&8221; was coined after June 19, 1865, when the news that slavery had been abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Texas &8212; a full two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed it into law in January 1863. The term also became a way to both celebrate freedom from slavery and also motivate former slaves who found themselves in a country with no land and few prospects for success, Lankster said.

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But for today&8217;s African-American, Lankster said Juneteenth is a way to measure how far the nation has come. While there have been problems in the past, Lankster said there are still many things to be proud of as an American.

Demopolis native Emma Pritchett said Thursday was her first time to attend a Juneteenth celebration, and the experience left her with an understanding of its significance in American culture.

The Rev. Mitchell Congress, who was also in attendance, took Lankster&8217;s message about Juneteenth as a jumping off point for the larger image of American politics.

Congress cited the success of presumptive Democratic nominee Barak Obama as a measure of how the country&8217;s political and social landscapes have progressed over the years.