Saturday afternoon in Minden was met with the city’s first ever Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration in Babbs Park. Juneteenth, the recently declared national holiday, celebrates the freeing of slaves from Galveston, TX two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
The event was hosted by the Citizens for Justice Committee made up of members Pastor Rodney Williams, Vincen Bradford, Rico Bell, Terika Williams Walker, Vincent Wilson, Pastor Robby Dale Williams, and Reverend Benjamin Martin.
“I thank everyone for coming. This is an enormous occasion. This is the first annual celebration that we’ve had for Juneteenth in the City of Minden, and it definitely will not be the last,” said Bell.
Minden’s Gamma Omicron Chapter of Omega Psi Phi and the Epsilon Rho Chapter of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa hosted trivia rounds pertaining to the subject of black history and gave out prizes to those who could answer correctly.
The event was also an opportunity for the guest speakers to talk about black history and reflect on how far African-Americans in the United States have come since being enslaved.
“Many may not know that there is actually a flag that represents Juneteenth. It features a twelve pointed star, with a white five pointed star inside of it. They appear on top of a blue and red background,” said Rico Bell.
“L. J. Graff, one of the banner’s designers, wrote that the Juneteenth flag represents the history and freedom of enslaved people, and their descendants. The flag depicts a bursting new star on the horizon. The star represents a new freedom, a new people, and a new story. The red white and blue colors commemorate that the american sleeves and their descendants are all Americans.”
Bell also used his time speaking to remind/educate people about the tragic events that took place 100 years ago this year in the May of 1921 in Tulsa, OK.
“On this day, and on this year let us not forget the history of Black Wallstreet and also the massacre that took place in Tulsa. We had our own community, our own banks, our own lawyers and everybody, in the community of Greenwood in Tulsa, and they were murdered between May 31st to June 1st 1921. This is the 100 anniversary of that tragic day,” said Bell.
Later during the event, Janice Givens of Phi Delta Kappa presented a poem written by Arthur Kroll titled Juneteenth, an excerpt of which reads,
“Regardless of where they went, they were followed with freedom’s challenges;
These challenges came from making decisions and environmental changes.
They never forgot that joyous 19th day of June;
When people once enslaved could finally sing their freedom tune.”
During the event, time was also taken to show true appreciation for the elder members of the local black community that have stood the test of time all while fighting for future generations to have better lives.
“We want to laud you, applaud you, and show you a token of our appreciation for taking a stand for all these years, so we can appreciate and enjoy what we enjoy right now. Thank you very very much,” said Pastor Dr. Robby D. Williams.
“I was born just a year before voting rights took place, so I know I’m grateful. For those of you who took the stand and took the fight, and made it possible for us to be here today. Even when you talk about standing here in a public place, you helped us do that.”
The Citizens for Justice Committee’s Attorney Dr. Charles Jones was also one of the speakers at the event. To list some notable highlights from his career, when Jones was in the Louisiana Senate, as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, he was the lead negotiator in the settlement resulting in the desegregation of the Louisiana Judiciary’s District Courts, Appeal Courts, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and also served as counsel for co-defendant in a high profile case of the State of Nevada versus O. J. Simpson and C. J. Stewart.
He spoke of Louisiana’s progress within the justice system, referring to a bill soon passing in Louisiana that extends the voting time for citizens as well as the fact that Louisiana is home to more black judges than anywhere else in the U.S.
“Next week, Gov John Bel Edwards is going to sign into law in Louisiana a bill authorized by Fredrick Douglas Jones, a bill to allow folk in Louisiana more time to vote,” said Jones.
“That bill extends the time when people in this state can vote and who can vote for President of the United States. Every other state where the legislature is dominated by a majority of whites or republicans, those states are trying to turn back the clock. They’re trying to reduce the amount of time that we, black folk, can vote. Everybody else is trying to turn back the clock, we’re trying to make sure we have more time to vote.”
He also spoke of the shortcomings of the justice system, referring to the recent controversial arrest of Robby Bailey which was recorded on video showing police officers kicking and punching him.
“We’re still in a struggle. We’re still in the same struggle that Fredrick Douglas talked about,” said Jones.
“So I want to say as we support brother Bailey in this fight, and not just him, anyone else who is similarly situated, we need to stand together as a people.”
Minister Thomas Ridley of St. Matthew B.C. Church also took some time to share a recent incident with law enforcement and his nephew, who he states was pulled out of his car with guns drawn on him while police were looking for another suspect.
“My nephew woke up out of his sleep, got in his car and drove four blocks, got pulled over by the police because they were looking for someone. Guns were drawn on him, they put him down on the ground, handcuffed him, still with guns drawn on him,” said Ridley.
“He’s never been in trouble with the law. He’s never been arrested. We can not let this go. Everything they did to him he said yes sir, and they still treated him like a criminal. I’ve learned that in our justice system, a lot of things are happening to our young people, because we don’t stand up. We leave them out there and they do what they want to do to them. We need to stand up.”
For those who would like to know more information about Citizens for Justice or possibly offer support, all can be done by visiting their Facebook page titled CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE Webster Parish.