“It is a holiday whose history was hidden for much of the last century,” explained Winnie Frazier to those attending the inaugural Juneteenth Celebration held at John Chapel AME Church Saturday, June 20.
The event was held in the church parking lot in compliance with state mandated, COVID-19 created social distancing mandates.
Vehicles filled the church parking lot on Geneva Highway with occupants honking horns and flashing headlights in lieu of applause as keynote speakers took their place at the podium during the two-hour event.
“Juneteenth marks what is arguably the most significant event in American history after Independence Day itself,” said Frazier. “There is a common misconception among Americans that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with the stroke of his pen.
“Yet, the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, did no such thing—or at least it didn’t do a very good job of it,” Frazier said, adding that it was not until two and one half years later when 2,000 Union soldiers under the command of Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, to announce that slavery had ended in the United States.
“Juneteenth is our other Independence Day,” Frazier said. “We must confront the great contradiction in our past that a nation conceived in liberty was also born in shackles.
“For centuries, slavery was the dark stain of America’s soul. It was the deep contradiction of a nation founded on the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that all men are created equal,” Frazier said. “When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he took a huge step toward erasing that stain but the full force of his proclamation would not be realized until June 19, 1865 when the slaves in Texas were freed.”
Frazier read from Gordon’s General Order No. 3 which states, in part, that, “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.”
There were more than 250,000 slaves residing in the state of Texas at that time. “None of them had any idea that they had actually been freed more than two years before,” Frazier said, describing the probable range of emotions from “shocked and disoriented to most likely fearful of an uncertain future in which they could do as they pleased.
“It was truly a day of mass emancipation; the moment of jubilee was spontaneous and ecstatic,” Frazier said about the tradition marking freedom.
Hosting a first-ever Juneteenth Celebration in Enterprise was the idea of Nichole Nichols, who Johns Chapel AME Pastor Willie White called “a visionary.” Frazier thanked Nichols for her vision and White for allowing the vision to come to fruition.
“Honoring our history through acknowledgement, educating and planning,” was the theme of the inaugural event. Guest speakers included Frazier, Elder Rodrick Caldwell and retired Dothan-Eufaula District AME Church Presiding Elder David Reddick and his wife, Allie Bell-Reddick.
Enterprise Mayor William “Bill” Cooper and Enterprise District 1 City Councilwoman Sonya Wheeler Rich welcomed the participants to the City of Progress.
Both stressed the importance for civic participation by means of filling out the 2020 National Census and registering to vote.
“It’s not just enough to just register to vote— actually get up and go to vote,” Rich said, also stressing the importance of taking part in the census. “For decades, minority communities have been underserved in the census,” Rich said. “Let’s change that to ensure that we receive our fair share of federal funding,”
Bell-Reddick, who came to the event armed with voter registration and absentee ballot forms, agreed. “Everyone here over the age of 18 should be a registered voter. The current message is ‘stay at home.’ But we don’t need you to stay at home in November. You don’t need to stay at home in August. We need you to go to the polls and vote.
“If we ever need to vote, we need to vote now,” she added. “Make your voices be heard.”
Her husband agreed. “This is the most important election of this century,” Reddick said. “Voting is your right. It is your voice. You don’t have a voice if you do not vote.”
Caldwell, who also serves on the Enterprise Board of Education, quoted from the Bible Book of Exodus, Chapter 1, Verses 11 and 12. “So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh,” Caldwell said. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.
“In the Scriptures they talk about the fact that anything they could do to break the people down, they did,” Caldwell said, adding the need to “keep the pressure on.
“Young people, stand up for what is right. I want to challenge everybody out here to keep the pressure on,” Caldwell stressed. “When it’s not popular, keep the pressure on. When they laugh at you, keep the pressure on. When they aggravate you, keep the pressure on.”
“We must face the past to address the present to look forward to the future,” Frazier said. “As we celebrate the progress of Juneteenth, let us remember that there is so much more work to do.
“We are still fighting for our liberation, freedom, justice and equality,” said Frazier. “Remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
“Silence is not an option,” Frazier added, smiling as car horns resounded in agreement. “If we change things for Black Americans, we change things for all Americans