Juneteenth recalls freeing of slaves

Muskogee Juneteenth

June 19, 2009
By Wendy Burton
Muskogee Phoenix News

(Muskogee, Oklahoma) - The Oklahoma Juneteenth Historical Foundation hosted its second day of celebration at Elliot Park on Friday afternoon.

“It took two Independence Days for slaves to be freed,” said president of the foundation Wilma Newton. “Juneteenth is the second day.”

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and decreed General Order No. 3, giving those slaves their freedom two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

More than 130 years after the last slaves in America were freed, the Oklahoma legislature passed a joint resolution to declare the third Saturday of June each year as Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

Juneteenth has an official flag, designed from the red and blue of Old Glory and one star to represent Texas because it was the last place that slaves were given their freedom, Newton said.

“Now there are 31 states that recognize and observe Juneteenth,” she said.

Charles Gaye, in charge of music at Friday’s celebration, was stationed at Camp Hood in Texas in the 1950s and remembers the holiday being very important to African-Americans there.

“No black people worked on Juneteenth all over Texas,” he said. “It was a big deal there and we’d like it to be a big deal here too.”

There appears to be a concerted effort from across the country to have Juneteenth Independence Day declared a National Holiday much like Flag Day or Patriot’s Day.

In fact, the Rev. Ronald V. Myers, chairman of the National Juneteenth Observation Foundation sent a letter asking President Obama to issue a presidential proclamation on the day’s behalf, and the National group is circulating a petition for the cause.

The foundation’s goal on Friday was to bring the community and surrounding areas out to celebrate, Newton said.

Hundreds turned out for Muskogee’s event, enjoying free barbecue from Smokehouse Bob’s, music, and entertainment.

Families visited under the shady pavilion, and children splashed around in the sprinkler park nearby, while jazz music played over loudspeakers.

Volunteers served brisket sandwiches, ribs, pork, chicken, hot links, and strawberry pop.

The Juneteenth African Dance Ensemble performed, and a group of children sang the West Africa national anthem.

State Representative Jerry McPeak drove from Oklahoma City to bring a proclamation from the governor, and Muskogee’s mayor brought a proclamation from the city as well.

Ivory Vann, member of the Muskogee Chapter NAACP executive board, brought his sons Ivory and Michael out for the celebration.

He would also like to see it become a national holiday someday.

“This gives people of all different nationalities a chance to get together and celebrate,” Vann said. “It just brings people together.”

For about the history of Juneteenth, and a calendar of events scheduled this month, visit www.juneteenthoklahoma.com


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