Juneteenth: A Day of Remembrance, Celebration

District Chronicles
By Angel Wilson     June 26, 2003

(Washington, DC) - "Scott Bailey...April 23, 1889...James Carter... April 6, 1902...John Forbes...June 16, 1889...Unknown Negro...June 11, 1907...Unknown Negro...August 9, 1914..."

The names are real people who were lynched, read by participants of the National Juneteenth Black Holocaust "Maafa" Memorial Service June 21. With the exception of a few sightseers wandering by or sitting for a moment, the audience consisted only of the speakers and their family members. The lack of an audience did not stop the readers or Rev. Ronald V. Meyers, chairman of the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council.

"We are looking to services like this...as we deal honestly with our history," Meyers said of the Juneteeth service.

Juneteenth is the name given to the celebration of June 19, 1865, the date the last slaves in the United States were freed in Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation, which had gone into effect almost three years earlier, did not reach the slaves of Galveston, Texas. A Union general had to travel to Texas and the order to the residents. The DC City Council adopted a resolution on June 3 to declare June 19th as "Juneteenth National Freedom Day" in DC. Texas is currently the only state that celebrates Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

"While recognizing "Cinco de Mayo," a Mexican celebration of victory and freedom, during the first two years in office at the White House, President Bush, the former Governor from Texas, where Juneteeth is recognized as a paid state holiday, refuses to recognize Juneteeth in a similar fashion," Meyers said.

"The U.S. Capitol and the White House were built through the uncompensated labor of the ancestors of Americans of African descent during the tyranny of slavery," he added. "It is important to recognize and honor their sacrifice and contributions in building key institutions in America."

The memorial service included a tribute poem by poet Kevin Reeves, who cited some of America's most recognized black leaders in politics, sports, education, medicine, and advocacy. Musical selections by singer Lisa Winn peppered the service.

The Reading of the Names ceremony was put together by the Institute For the Study of Race Relations. The ceremony was first done four years ago, when Juneteenth ceremonies were just starting up in the States. Dr. Renee Hill and Dr. Dirk Philipsen, who work at the Institute, said that the list includes about 6,000 names and usually takes three days to recite. "We'll give you a mini-version," Philipsen said. The mini-version was 30 minutes long and was read by six people. The speakers often paused in the middle of the list to collect themselves, or briefly told those listening about the sorrow they felt at having to read the names.

Greg Brown, founder and president of the Black Holocaust Society, was brought to tears as he talked about the East St. Louis Massacre of 1917, where between 250 and 750 blacks had been killed due to "competition of labor."

The hunting and killing of any one black in industrial area "became a sport," for whites, Brown explained. "The thing that made you a victim was this," he added, pointing to his skin.

Despite the small turnout from locals, Meyers was not discouraged. "The Lord said that where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be present," he said.

Contact Angel Wilson at district_chronicles@hotmail.com


Return to NJCLC Home Page