(PHOTOS) DeKalb County celebrates first official Juneteenth holidayFrom left, Barbara J. Mobley, NAACP DeKalb County branch President Teresa Hardy and Ainka dance on the bandstand during DeKalb County’s first Juneteenth celebration held at the Decatur Square on Friday, June 18. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — DeKalb County marked the first celebration of Juneteenth on Friday, June 18, after making it a county holiday last year. The event included speeches from the commissioners and other local officials, food vendors and a COVID-19 vaccination booth.
Juneteenth became a paid holiday for DeKalb County employees after the county Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution on July 14, 2020, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson.
“It was a lot of hot racial tension in the country. There was a lot of hate spreading, prejudice, bias, a lot of killing of our Black men and women in this country. I just felt that this could be a time of recognition of the freedom of our people,” Davis Johnson told Decaturish. “Although we just introduced this in 2020, it’s never too late to remind people that you’re free.”
She added that it’s important that the history of Juneteenth becomes part of the country’s history, put in the history books and taught in schools so “we can begin to heal as a country because I’m a firm believer that all people are created equal,” Davis Johnson said.
Juneteenth commemorates the day when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863. But the slaves in Galveston weren’t informed until June 19, 1865.
“Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, thus ending the bloody Civil War,” Commissioner Steve Bradshaw said. “Yet the news of this did not reach Black people in Galveston, Texas, until June 19 of that year. Now, in this modern day and age, it’s hard to imagine that news of something so enormous would take so long to reach anyone but that is how it was. So we celebrate June 19, or Juneteenth, as a day of freedom and liberation. It is all together proper and fitting that we should do this.”
Slavery is the country’s original sin, Bradshaw added.
“As we continue to grapple with the aftermath of America’s original sin, it is my fervent hope and prayer that we will all one day be seen as equal in the eyes of each other,” he said.
During Friday’s event, DeKalb NAACP President Teresa Hardy asked “Where does the community go from here?” and she suggested a path forward of five do’s and five don’ts.
Here are her suggestions:
1. Do register to vote and vote in every eligible election.
2. Do join a civil rights organization that is fighting to maintain and advance civil and human rights.
3. Do become aware of and involved in local and national politics.
4. Do advocate for adequate funding for public schools.
5. Do save a portion of your income so as not to become a slave of debt.
1. Don’t ever again say that Blacks need to come together. No great achievement has ever been made by waiting on everybody to come together. I see that as a distraction and excuse to do nothing.
2. Don’t get discouraged and give in.
3. Don’t forget the struggles our ancestors endured and what they achieved, even during the era of Jim Crow.
4. Don’t forget the poor and the disadvantaged.
5. Don’t undervalue your worth.
Source: DeKalb NAACP President Teresa Hardy
The county Juneteenth event was a day of recognition, restoration and celebration, Davis Johnson said during the event.
“I thought, and the commission thought and DeKalb thought that it’s very important for us to honestly confront our past and combat racism with the acknowledgement of the often neglected people in our society,” she said. “We’re today [June 18] to say we’re going to recognize our history, we’re going to teach our history, and so we are grateful for this holiday. I want everyone to know that it all started here in DeKalb, but it was the blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers that we’re here, the reason that we’re here today. But remember, freedom is an everyday struggle.”
The county celebration came a few days after President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday, June 17, a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. The law went into effect immediately, making Friday, June 18, the first federal Juneteenth holiday to be observed by federal employees, according to NBC News.
“As a member of this community, as someone who represents this community, I was extremely proud [Thursday] at 3:30 p.m. when our president, Joe Biden, signed into law the federal holiday of Juneteenth,” DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said. “I watched with excitement as our madam vice president, Kamala Harris, stood by his side and we had the lovely Miss Opal [Lee] sitting in the room to recognize her hard work on this.”
The event also fell on the one-year anniversary of the Confederate obelisk being removed from the Decatur Square. During a protest on June 17, 2020, the obelisk was plastered with signs commemorating lives lost to white supremacy and calling for the removal of the monument.
Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger ordered the removal of the Confederate monument on June 12, 2020, in response to a complaint filed by Decatur City Attorney Bryan Downs, Decaturish previously reported.
“What a difference a year makes,” Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said during the Juneteenth event. “I stood in front of the historic DeKalb County Courthouse about a year ago with CEO Thurmond and the DeKalb County commissioners as we celebrated the removal of the Confederate obelisk. Juneteenth will always remind me of that significant moment as well, but today we gather to remember the significance of Juneteenth, the oldest commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.”
While Juneteenth marks the end of slavery, it was also the beginning of a lot of struggle, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said.
“We stand here today as inheritors of the right to be free,” Thurmond said. “It was the beginning of decades of struggle that followed the end of slavery so that we could be full citizens of this great nation. So I come [on June 18] to celebrate, to commemorate but we should all rededicate ourselves to fulfilling that dream, that dream of freedom.”
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