Troy celebrates first Juneteenth

TROY — “Know your roots.”

That was what Rev. Carolyn Moore, a speaker of Troy’s first Juneteenth celebration, encouraged the crowd to do as the event on Saturday not only celebrated the anniversary of the end of slavery, but also honored the ancestors of African Americans with festivities to promote unity.

The Troy Human Relations Commission served as a partner to organize Troy’s Juneteenth event, which kicked off on Saturday afternoon with a Celebration Walk starting at the Troy-Miami County Public Library and leading to McKaig-Race Park, where festivities featured food, games and activities, guest speakers, singers, and other entertainment.

Historically, Juneteenth is a holiday honoring the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery in the United States. While President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, the proclamation had to be enforced by Union troops. Also known as “Emancipation Day” and “Freedom Day,” this holiday is celebrated on the anniversary of the June 19, 1865, announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army General Gordon Granger in Texas — the last state of the Confederacy with slavery — granting freedom from slavery in Texas.

Just a few days before Troy’s first Juneteenth celebration, Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday following the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in Congress on June 15-16 and President Joe Biden signing it into law on June 17.

“The beginning of the end of legal enslavement would not be recognized until 1865,” said Rev. Kima Cunningham, pastor of Richards Chapel United Methodist Church. Cunningham said, traditionally, the commemoration of Juneteenth promotes unity within the African-American diaspora, a love of their culture, and respect for their heritage.

“In the spirit of Juneteenth, we stand together today, all races, every ethnicity, and we speak freedom,” Cunningham said. “We invite transformation through music, spoken word, collective narratives, and defiant hope for justice and liberation for all people. Honoring our ancestral freedom fighters, we unite in the spirit of healing, love, and respect for our roots. The tenacity of our ancestors that resisted bondage on our behalf informs our cultural conscience in today’s movement for Black lives. We also recognize our ancestors’ found solidarity with sectors of the white community and with other marginalized communities, such as Native Americans and Latino Americans.”

Organizers also held a libation ceremony to honor African Americans’ ancestors, abolitionists, civil rights leaders, local leaders and elders, and more.

“As we gather today, in distinct African custom, we pour libations in honor of the life circle to which we live,” Cunningham said. “We pour water to the ground in remembrance of our African ancestors. In honor of the sacredness of Black and brown bodies, and we say in the spirit of the West African Yoruba people, ‘Ashe.’ ‘Ashe,’ which means ‘so it is,’ ‘it is done,’ and ‘we speak their name.’”

The keynote speaker for the event was Moore, a 1953 graduate of Troy High School. Moore is also the daughter of Lucille Wheat, a social activist in the Troy Hall of Fame.

“The only way Troy got integrated was my mother,” Moore said.

Moore spoke about facing prejudice and discrimination as a Black child in Troy in the 1940s and 50s, saying, “It was not as free and open then as it is now.”

“We were not allowed to sit in certain places in the buildings. We were not allowed to eat downtown,” Moore said.

“I was the only Black girl in my class,” Moore said about her experience attending Troy High School. Moore was the first Black member of the Troy High School National Honor Society, as well as Troy’s first Black cheerleader.

Moore said she had wanted to be a school teacher, but she was told that a Black teacher would never be allowed in Troy. She praised the diversity she now sees in Troy schools.

Moore also encouraged attendees to “know your roots.”

“If you don’t know where you came from … learn your history,” Moore said.

“On the first Juneteenth in our town, I think it’s good to honor our matriarch,” Troy Human Relations Commission member Sonia Holycross said.

Holycross said Juneteenth is another way to celebrate freedom in the U.S. and that she hoped people got a sense of unity from the event.

“I think we’re all proud of our patriotism,” Holycross said.

Holycross recognized the volunteers and sponsors who helped make the event possible.

“Juneteenth wouldn’t be much if we all weren’t here to celebrate,” Holycross said.

Sanjeev Thapa, who works with Hobart Brothers, is part of a group called the Hobart Against Racism Team, which he said began when his coworkers and he started having open discussions about racism together. Members of the Hobart Against Racism Team were volunteers for the event, and also took part in meetings with the Human Relations Commission. He said they are “working in the background.”

Troy’s Juneteenth celebration is sponsored by several local businesses, churches, and non-profits, including The Bakehouse, Encloudment, Haren’s Market, Hobart Filler Metals, Mayor Kris Lee, Richards Chapel, St. James Community Church, The Randolph & McCulloch Freedom’s Struggle Complex, Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, Troy Freedom Chasers, and Todd Severt. In addition to The Troy Foundation, Thrivent, Hobart Filler Metals, Hobart Against Racism Team, Larry Hamilton, and Zion Baptist Church have provided grant funding and donations.