After doing a mostly virtual celebration last year due to the COVID pandemic, organizers of Juneteenth-Jefferson City were excited to have a mix of virtual and in-person events to mark this important moment in the history of the United States.
The Juneteenth celebration is a holiday which honors June 19, 1865, the day when Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Texas to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln had signed a full two and a half years earlier.
A program was led Saturday morning by the Rev. William T. Edmonson Sr., the founder and president of the Juneteenth-Jefferson City Committee, at the Lincoln University Soldiers Memorial Plaza.
"Twenty years ago, we decided we would like to introduce Juneteenth to Jefferson City," Edmonson said. "Not only should we be working to get equal rights for everyone, but we should also be in the business of educating, especially our young people. Unfortunately, the education system has chosen to block certain things from history. But one thing I always say, history is history regardless of what anybody says."
Edmonson said as people have started to "not try and change history, but try to correct history, people are up in arms because we are trying to project true history in this country. Something is wrong with that."
Edmonson said the United States is a great country and has come a long way, but, "We should be in the business of reconciling and understanding that just because something happened in the past, does not mean it has to stay that way. We cannot allow anyone, whether they be politicians, preachers or teachers or anyone else, to discourage true history from being taught."
Lincoln University Interim President John Moseley talked about arriving in Jefferson City seven years ago and how coming to the historically Black college, "spoke to his heart."
"I'm from a small majority minority community in eastern North Carolina, and I fought my whole life for my friends to get the same opportunities that I would have," Moseley said. "I have an opportunity now to lead this university and when you think about the soldiers who founded our university (in 1866), learning to read in a time when it was illegal for Black Americans to be taught the value of reading, yet they still came here and started this institution — it's quite a humbling experience."
The statues at the memorial plaza depict the African American veterans of the Civil War turning their guns in for books to better themselves through education.
"We've got to do all we can to ensure that the mission of these soldiers, to provide an education for all, continues to happen," Moseley said.
A graduate of LU who worked to get the soldier memorial erected was Maj. Gen. Hank Stratman, U.S. Army retired, from Vienna. Stratmen spoke on the history of African Americans in the U.S. Military and said while they faced many forms of discrimination, history shows they acted with bravery and patriotism in defending the U.S.
"When I was here at LU, the country was in turmoil with the Vietnam war and I had the opportunity to go into the reserves and then I chose to go active," Stratman said, "President Kennedy's mantra of, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country' resonated with me. The U.S. Military has been desegregated since the late 1940s and while it's not perfect, the people that serve in our Armed Forces today are serving because they want to serve. This generation of all volunteer service members, whether they be Black, white, Hispanic or Asian Americans, have done us proud. They have earned the trust and confidence of we the people."
This past week, President Joe Biden signed legislation that establishes Juneteenth as a federal holiday after the measure made it through the Congress. The effort to get this approved follows racial justice uprisings that have occurred across the country. Juneteenth became the first new federal holiday since the addition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Gov. Mike Parson announced soon after the federal bill signing Thursday that all state offices would be closed Friday in observance of the United States' newest federal holiday. Missouri made June 19 a state holiday, known as Emancipation Day, in 2003.
"Missouri has been slow in a lot of things, but they weren't slow on that," Edmonson told the crowd Saturday. "That's one case where Missouri was ahead of the country and praise God for that."
Jefferson City NAACP President Nimrod Chapel said Juneteenth has been called America's "Second Independence Day" and is now seen as a time for reflection and rejoicing, with an emphasis on achievement and moving forward.
"Jefferson City joins communities across the country where people of various ethnic backgrounds come together in celebration and acknowledging our history that not only shaped our country's past but continues to influence our society today," Chapel said. "This acknowledgment helps drive significant and lasting improvements for all Americans."
The Juneteenth celebration continued Saturday afternoon as The Shaded Community held an event at East Miller Park featuring 34 vendors from Black-owned businesses showing their products and services which included various foods, beauty products, clothing and fitness.
Event organizer Tolasco Walton said The Shaded Community stands for the various shades of black in African American culture.
"We are just like any other community," Walton said. "We are diverse and we want to show people that everybody can do anything they want to do."
Walton said they had a similar event last year,with a large turnout, and they want to make this an annual event.
"Many of these businesses are online and do much of their business through social media," Walton said. "These people are very hard working and this is another way for them to get the word out about their business. The pandemic actually made people hustle even more than they had in the past to show what they could do. A lot of people sat down and realized that life is worth living. So do what you want to do and don't let a 9-5 job stop you from doing that."
More Juneteenth activities are scheduled today at Community Park on Marshall Street. There will be music, food, games, giveaways, special presentations, and a Black Business and Organization Showcase from 4-8 p.m.
Visitors can tour the nearby historic Jefferson City Community Center on East Dunklin Street. Proceeds from concessions will help restore the community center which was built by Black residents in 1942 when segregation prohibited many of them from entering "white-only" facilities.
As part of today's festivities, the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department will reveal the first of seven sculptures in Community Park examining the history of the Foot District.
The Foot District grew from the 1860s until federal urban renewal claimed the majority of the homes and businesses in the 1960s. It covered an area on Lafayette Street from East McCarty to East Dunklin streets, as well as blocks of East Miller, Elm, Cherry and Marshall streets.