Local community leaders of the “Unity in the Community” group came together to sponsor our area’s Juneteenth celebration at Natchitoches’ historic First Baptist Church on North Street Saturday, June 19. Juneteenth is the name given to the day on June 19, 1865, on which Union forces under General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas. One of the General’s first actions was to issue his famous General Order Number 3 which stated in part:
“…The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer….”
This year’s Juneteenth Celebration, much like the original event 165 years ago, was a joyous celebration of freedom. The evening started at a blocked off area of North St. in front of the church. Several local businesses sponsored tents and displays along the street. They were joined by the National Park Service and Natchitoches Parish Library bookmobile both of which had educational activities for young and old alike.
The program itself was held inside the church. Ralph Wilson and Mildred D. Joseph emceed the event. There were several absolutely superb renditions of traditional spirituals from Mrs. Joy Cook, Mrs. Murphy Payne Reid, Mr. Charles Presley, and Mr. Jonathan Hicks. NSU’s Vice President for Inclusion & Diversity, Dr. Michael Snowden, demonstrated his skills extend beyond academia as he accompanied the incomparable horn player, Andrew Cofield, on the piano. Mr. Ed Ward spoke of local African American history. Natchitoches’ mayor, the Honorable Ronnie Williams, was the keynote speaker.
On the first Juneteenth, a little over two months after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox doomed the Confederacy, General Granger and his troops fulfilled the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The Stars and Stripes once more flew from every corner of this nation. The Confederacy was crushed and the evil of slavery driven from our country. It is indeed a day worthy of remembrance and celebration!
The Natchitoches Parish Journal would like to commend all of the men and women who worked diligently to bring about this celebration. It was a delightful evening, and we are looking forward to next year’s event!