Minggu, 19 Juni 2011

Juneteenth Off The Record

ASHEVILLE — Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the United States. 

But for residents of Hillcrest Apartments on Saturday, it was more.
“It's everybody coming together,” said Teressa Searles, who lives at the public housing complex. “It just means so much.
“We're trying to make a positive statement over here. There is so much negative stuff about Hillcrest, but it's not as bad as people think.”

Residents young and old gathered in a field at the complex to play games, listen to live music and eat hot dogs and watermelon at the first “Hillcrest Juneteenth.”
The event was organized by the Women's Wellbeing and Development Foundation, a local nonprofit that organizes classes and other activities at Hillcrest.

“It seemed like a really good opportunity to just have a big celebration of the community and who we are and how far everybody's come, and also just have a great day for the families,” said Nicole Hinebaugh, the foundation's program director.

Saturday's event also included the unveiling of a large mural attached to a fence at Hillcrest. It was designed by artists Ernie Mapp and Danny Suber, said Ian Wilkenson, director of the Asheville Mural Project.

“It's an image of a Hillcrest building being held up by the hands of God, and a young resident looking across the playground to an old resident looking back at her, embodying their hopes for the future,” he said.

Celebration of Juneteenth has been an African-American tradition since the late 19th century, and is observed in communities across the U.S.

“Juneteenth to me is not only a celebration commemorating the end of slavery, it's also a chance for people to understand change,” said Itiyopiya Ewart, assistant program coordinator for the Women's Wellbeing and Development Center. “Today we're celebrating where we've come as a nation.”

It was on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War ended and that slaves were free. This came two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which became official on Jan. 1, 1863. The proclamation had little effect on Texans because of the small number of troops to enforce the order.

But with the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in April 1865 and the arrival of Granger's regiment in Galveston, the forces were finally strong enough to overcome the resistance.

One of Granger's first acts was to read aloud General Order No. 3, which began:

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

Juneteenth Off The Record 

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with good news to share: the end to the long and gruesome Civil War and the emancipation of black slaves. This life-changing news, however, was delivered a staggering two-and-a-half years after the initial emancipation date of January 1, 1863. The late yet momentous news from General Granger still seems to be pending in its recognition within our history.

As we celebrate Juneteenth this month, we are reminded of the rich history of the black community. From barbeques to neighborhood block parties, we all choose to remember the work of our ancestors in one fashion or another; the work that provided the economic, cultural, social, and political foundation that defines our great nation as it is today.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, residents memorialize Juneteenth through an annual 10-day celebration of black music, art, and entertainment. This year, a constituent of mine, Larry Ridley, is being honored for his contributions to black culture during the ten days. Ridley, a jazz artist-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, who has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Dinah Washington, has lived in Harlem since 1993.

In my district, the Harlem community will celebrate together the holiday and history of black heritage this Saturday, on June 18th at the 18th Annual Juneteenth Parade and King Fest. The event is part of the many festivities taking place throughout New York, Texas, and 37 other states, along with District of Columbia.

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