Juneteenth celebration continues to grow in third year

Stew performs during the Hamblen County Juneteenth celebration at Downtown on the Green Saturday.

Morristown celebrated Juneteenth on Saturday as groups from every sphere of the community gathered at the farmers market downtown and listened to music, ate some soul food and came together for the nation’s newest national holiday.

Dr. Alpha Alexander, chair of the Morristown Task Force on Diversity, said the day had gone well.

“The weather’s beautiful; it’s not 101 degrees,” she said. “I see a lot of different people out enjoying the vendors and music and having a lot of fun. I think the community is definitely embracing (Juneteenth)… I see it growing (in the future).”

Aromatic smoke from Wholly Souled Soul Food wafted over the grounds as vendors selling colorful apparel and other goods.

Children ran and played in a bounce house near puppies the Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society had brought for adoption.

The cute attendees vied for attention near jewelry and candle vendors set up near the shade tree in the green space where families sought refuge from the sun that occasionally drifted out from behind the clouds.

But behind the hustle and bustle of families enjoying the afternoon was the sound of music drifting from the pavilion where everything from soul music, to hip-hop and especially gospel music reminded those within earshot that the event they had gathered to commemorate was a celebration of freedom.

Juneteenth, which falls on June 19 every year (and whose federal work holiday is on Monday), is known as the African American Emancipation Day because that’s the day in 1865 the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas received news of their freedom, one year after the Senate passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Union General Gordon Granger issued General Order Number 3 that began with these words:

“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Preston Thompson, a member of Men of Vision, spoke to the crowd gathered in the shade of the market pavilion on the role of the holiday in educating people about its lesser known history.

“We’ve all come together, and it’s a beautiful thing to see you all out there in all the different shades we come in- we are all American and we all share this history,” he said. “We all learned about July 4. We all learned about George Washington. We learned about the history of Thomas Jefferson. But we don’t learn about Gordon Grainger. We don’t learn about Juneteenth. We don’t learn about Galveston. And today we’re coming together to celebrate that time that those people were freed and still celebrate it to this day… somewhere along the way we all became free. We became free whether it was July 4, whether it was Juneteenth.”

He went on to reference the work of prior generations, and, perhaps, work being done on a Saturday in Morristown with an old proverb.

“’A society grows great when old men plant trees, the shade of which they shall never sit.’ Happy Juneteenth.”

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