Times Record Newspaper
Reverend Leads Push To Make Juneteenth National Holiday

Ron Myers
Corey S. Krasko Times Record
Earlton Balles, from left, on alto sax and Kevin Willis on
guitar jam with the Rev. Ronald Myers Sr. during a Jazzy
Tuesday Jam Session for Juneteenth at the Golden Goose
nightclub on North 10th Street. Myers, a physician in
Roland, is the national head of the Juneteenth holiday

Times Record Newspaper
By Jordan Drummer     June 11, 2010

(Fort Smith, AR) - It's time for Juneteenth, which celebrates the freeing of the last slaves in Texas in 1865, to become a nationally recognized holiday, according to the chairman of the national Juneteenth Holiday Campaign.

"We'll continue to urge President Obama and members of Congress to not only acknowledge Juneteenth Independence Day as a national day of observance, but also to continue to work to bring healing and reconciliation from the legacy of slavery," the Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr. said at a news conference at the River Park Event Center June 1.

Fort Smith's celebration of Juneteenth starts today at 5 p.m. at Harry E. Kelley Park in Fort Smith.

Andre Good, the Arkansas Juneteenth state director, has contacted Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor's offices about the holiday, and he said the issue of slavery is still a burden on the African American community.

"A lot of people think that because this is 2010, that we're so far past slavery, that we don't have to make mention of it, or pay any attention to it," Good said at the news conference. "It is still really relevant today."

The 2010 Juneteenth Freedom Fest will be today through Sunday at Harry E. Kelley Park in Fort Smith with members of Gov. Mike Beebe's office presenting the opening ceremony at 5 p.m. The entertainment will start at 6:20 p.m. with comedian Lil' JJ, the star of Nickelodeon's "Just Jordan," hosting the celebration.

Along with presenting performances from groups like Hi-Def and L.A.O., the Fort Smith Juneteenth organizers try to stress the historical significance of the holiday as much as the entertainment, Good said.

"There was an independent film group in Little Rock, and they did a survey that asked people why we celebrate Juneteenth," Good said Monday. "It found that a lot of people didn't know about what it was and why we celebrate it and what it's for. They were just going for the entertainment aspect."

Baridi Nkokheli, the director of the Fort Smith Sanitation Department, will give a speech about Bass Reeves at 8 p.m.

Reeves was born into slavery, but later became a legendary U.S. Marshal who is credited with arresting more than 3,000 outlaws in his career.

Verdi Triplet from the Indian Territory and Oklahoma Freedmen Historical Association will speak at 8:15 p.m. about the relationship between Native Americans and the African American slaves.

Other performers tonight include the Harrison-based King Tut Blues Band at 6:20 p.m., 4th Soil at 7:40 p.m. and Gary "Lil' G" Jenkins, of the group Silk at 9 p.m.

Myers, a jazz musician, also promotes June as Black Music Month and the June observance of Maafa, which is sometimes called the African Holocaust.

Maafa is a Swahili word that means great calamity or disaster and refers to the suffering of Africans through slavery and the deaths of millions of Africans on slave ships.

Maafa is observed annually on the third Friday in June, Myers said.

"It's important that all Americans reflect upon their history, and that they reflect upon their freedom," Myers said. "We may have gotten there by different ways, but we all have a common bond of freedom."

Juneteenth began as a celebration of the freeing of slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. They were last slaves in the Union to gain their freedom.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the Union in September 1862, but it took the news almost two and a half years to reach the frontier areas of the Southwest.

The festivities continue Saturday at Harry E. Kelley Park in Fort Smith with music from 5 p.m. until after 10 p.m.

The celebration will wrap up Sunday at Martin Luther King Park in Fort Smith from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with free food provided by Tyson Inc.


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