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West Point celebrates Juneteenth

WEST POINT — The first Juneteenth in 1865 was greeted with music, song, dancing and prayer. In issuing a Juneteenth proclamation on Friday afternoon, West Point Mayor Steve Tramell said he’d like to see that kind of joy in the streets of West Point. There’s a growing movement for Juneteenth to be a national holiday.

Celebrating the day is not new in many places across the U.S., Lanett and West Point among them.

The proclamation announced by the mayor noted that the local Juneteenth celebration began with the formation of a Juneteenth Committee in September 2010. Starting in June 2011 and extending through June 2018, a multicultural Juneteenth celebration took place on the third Saturday in June through 2018. The event was relocated to West Point River Park last year and was canceled this year due to COVID-19.

The Rev. Randy B. Kelley said Friday that Juneteenth is all about celebration and education. He is encouraging the tradition to continue in the local area.

The Juneteenth Day proclamation noted that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, declaring the slaves to be free in every state of the Confederacy. The Union victory in the Civil War made it the force of law, not only in the states that had seceded from the Union but also in five border states that permitted slavery but did not leave the Union.

Among the final enslaved black people to be told they were free were those living in Galveston, Texas. For all practical purposes, the Civil War ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865, but word of the South’s defeat and the freeing of the slaves did not reach Galveston until June. Standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Union General Gordon Granger announced General Order No. 3 to an assembled crowd. This order declared slavery to be illegal throughout the United States. Word of this spread like wildfire, causing great joy among Galveston’s African-Americans.

“Former slaves rejoiced in the streets after the announcement with music, song, dance and prayer,” the proclamation reads.

Since then, June 19 has been remembered and celebrated by African-Americans as the day everyone knew slavery was over. The mayor’s proclamation noted that Juneteenth has widespread support in the local area.