By Howard Spence
LANSING, MI -- Did you know that Juneteenth is a state of Michigan official holiday? Juneteenth National Freedom Day legislation was signed into law as P.A. 48 on June 17, 2005.
Much of the drive for Juneteenth to be recognized as a state holiday was initiated by community leaders in Lansing. Present to celebrate the signing of the legislation making Juneteenth an official state of Michigan holiday were former state Senator Martha G. Scott, the late Reverend Michael C. Murphy - who was then a state representative representing residents in the city of Lansing, Reverend A. Richard Doss, Marilyn Plummer, former governor Jennifer M. Granholm, and then state Senator Mark Schauer.
The Juneteenth holiday commemorates the last day that Negro slaves officially existed in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln issued his “Emancipation Proclamation” on September 22. 1862. The Emancipation Proclamation ordered that all the Negro slaves in both the union states of our nation and in the rebelling states of the Confederacy be immediately freed from their condition of slavery.
The issuance of the presidential proclamation and order by President Lincoln was designed to weaken the war effort of the rebelling Confederate states, but it also represented the sentiments of President Lincoln and many citizens in the United States at that time that slavery was an evil “peculiar institution” that should be eradicated after almost two centuries of its existence. Slavery was almost entirely confined to Southern states, which became fearful that the Northern states would begin a more concentrated effort to eradicate slavery in the United States after the election of President Lincoln. Most historians agree that the real reason for the American Civil War was an attempt by the Southern states to secede from the Union to join together in the Confederacy to protect and assure the ability of those states to continue their use of slavery, which was a mainstay of the Southern economy and way of life.
Even after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln in 1862, the actual “freeing” of Negro slaves in the South was a slow process which occurred only as the result of some major battles in areas of the South where the Union soldiers were triumphant.
Thousands of Negro slaves in some parts of the old Confederacy and particularly in the state of Texas were not told about their emancipation and freedom by their white slave masters for years after the proclamation was issued. Those Negro slaves remained in bondage and servitude for an extended time even after the Civil War had ended and the Confederates had surrendered.
Those last groups of Negro “slaves” only found out that they had been officially emancipated years earlier when a union battleship landed in Texas two years after the Civil War ended and forced the white slave owners to stop treating the already freed negroes as slaves.
The actual end of legalized slavery in our country is a significant point in the history of America, and it is appropriate that certain groups and communities celebrate the point in time when the very core nature of our country changed and a large group of our people gained the liberty and freedom which had previously been the hall mark and birth right of a select few white men.
The Juneteenth celebration started on Thursday, June 15. It began with an opening ceremony with keynote speaker, Indira K. Glass at Lansing City Hall. It continued into the weekend with many events and activities designed to celebrate the historic event including a ballgame commemorating the Negro League. Present also were the daughters of some of the old Negro League baseball players, who sung the national anthem.
Included in the celebration was the recognition for some local young people who submitted winning essays for scholarship competition held in conjunction with the event. Winners were Pierre Butler, an eighth grade student at MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing; Yashua Robinson, a student at Shabazz Academy in Lansing; Myles Pope, a student at East Lansing High School, and Nina Natla, a student at East Lansing High School.
The Juneteenth celebration continued Saturday morning, June 17, when the annual African American parade occurred. The parade started at the Letts Community Center on the west side and proceeded to St. Joseph Park.
The Grand Marshall for this year’s parade was Mr. Larry Leatherwood, a long-time state employee and community leader who resides in Delta Township. Reverend A. Richard Doss returned to Lansing to participate in this year’s celebration, and he delivered the invocation for the day-ong Juneteenth celebration and festival at the park, which began immediately after the conclusion of the parade.
A good-sized crowd of community members of all races from throughout the Greater Lansing region were present at the park, to enjoy food, entertainment and exhibits. Entertainment was provided during the various Juneteenth holiday celebrations by 313 Live, Orquestra Ritmo, Men of God’s Heart, Sloan and others.
Heather Taylor, the entertainment coordinator said, “Juneteenth is a great opportunity to learn about the meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation and how the Civil War changed the course for many Americans. Visitors enjoyed talent, art, merchandise and all genres of music. In 2018, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the state holiday and hope to see more people come out and enjoy this event.”
There were numerous community organizations as well as private vendors present for the festivities. The Lansing area chapter of the NAACP and staff from the office of the Lansing City Clerk were present encouraging those attending to register to vote.
Although the Negro slaves were “freed” by the Emancipation Proclamation, the former Negro slaves did not get the right to vote until after the Civil War ended and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were ratified to amend the United States Constitution.
Lansing is a very diverse community with people represented from many ethnic and racial backgrounds and cultures. Each has their history to share to make our communities even richer and more inclusive. The celebration of significant historical events for each of these groups of people is important to our future. A community cannot really know where they can go in the future until they have a good grasp and understanding of where they have been in the past, and where they are in the present.
For more information, please log on www.lansingjuneteenthcelebration.org.
Printed in the July 9 - July 22, 2017 edition