By Alton Porter
CROCKETT – Crockett’s 35th annual Juneteenth Celebration, themed “Justice for All,” was held, with events being held beginning Thursday, June 10, and rising to a high point with a parade, an official ceremony and a Fun Day Activity taking place Saturday, June 19.
The Crockett celebration “is a cultural awareness project, sponsored by the Groves Educational Foundation,” according to Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher, the Juneteenth coordinator, and Groves Educational Foundation chief operating officer.
Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the day in 1865, June 19, when union soldiers arrived in Galveston and spread the word to Texans that President Abraham Lincoln had issued an Emancipation Proclamation calling for the end of the enslavement of Black Americans in the two and a half years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863.
Although June 19 has been recognized and celebrated as a holiday by residents in several states for many years, it was officially made the 11th holiday recognized by the federal government on June 17 upon the signing by President Joseph Biden of a bill passed by the US Senate and House of Representatives last week.
On June 15, the Senate passed a bill recognizing the day, and the House approved the measure the next day. Biden signed the bill into law Thursday, June 17, establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, immediately giving federal employees the day off work on June 18.
Opening the Crockett ceremony on June 19, giving greetings and offering expressions, and welcoming attendees, Fisher said the event’s theme is “going to be the focal point for the next year that we’re going to work toward, that we’re going to identify and that we’re going to make sure that it happens.”
“But it can only happen if you’re involved.” Fisher told the attendees. “And so, we’re looking forward.”
Fisher added, “Today, the significance of having it (the celebration) here on these grounds (the Groves Educational Foundation property) is not so much about the age of the building, but this was actually the African American school—the Crockett Colored High, elementary, all the way through.
“So, we chose this not accidentally or coincidentally; it is because it has significance to this community and to us as a people. We want to remember our roots; we never want to forget them.”
Invocations were prayed by Minister Reginald Marshall of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and Pastor Audice Leon Wallace of Good Shepherd Fellowship Church before the attendees sang in unison the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was led by JoAnn Beasley.
Elected officials present were recognized. They are Crockett City Councilmember Marquita Beasley; Crockett Independent School District Trustee Gerald Colter; Houston County Tax Assessor-Collector Laronica Wooten Smith; Houston County Attorney Daphne Session; and Rusk City Council Mayor Pro-Tem Walter Session.
Speaking words in Juneteenth Reflections was event Assistant Coordinator Lynda Warfield, who said the Juneteenth celebration is a serious matter and young people should be taught the history of the occasion and why it is held.
The Emancipation Proclamation “declared ‘that all persons held as slaves’ within the rebellious states ‘are, and henceforth shall be free,’” Warfield said. “Texas did not hear of Lincoln’s proclamation, which he gave on Jan. 1, 1863, until more than two years after it was issued.
“Although Juneteenth has been informally celebrated each year since 1865, it wasn’t until June 3, 1979, that Texas became the first state to proclaim Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) as an official state holiday. This year, 2021, Juneteenth was celebrated federally June 18. We salute President Biden, who officially signed the bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday effective immediately.”
Warfield added, “Juneteenth is much more than a holiday; it is a day for African Americans to celebrate their freedom, culture and achievements. It is a day for all Americans to celebrate African American history and rejoice in their freedom. Juneteenth is a day on which honor and respect is paid for the sufferings of slavery. It is a day on which we acknowledge the evils of slavery and its aftermath. Juneteenth is a day that we pray for peace and liberty for all.”
Wooten Smith, the first African American to be elected Houston County tax assessor-collector and who was grand marshal of this year’s Juneteenth parade, which was held earlier last Saturday morning, was given the opportunity to speak to the attendees during the ceremony, as was Maxine Session, of Rusk, a founder and owner of Texas Informer News, who was honored as a Woman of Wisdom. Wooten Smith was presented a plaque for her service.
Maxine Session said “This event is so important to our culture” and urged mothers and fathers to “be sure to talk to your children about your ancestors—talk to them about it; write it down.” She told the attendees to “please write down your family history; please talk to your children about it.”
During the celebration, the winner of this year’s Miss Juneteenth Pageant and other girls and boys who participated in the pageant and its induction ceremony held June 10 & 12 were introduced.
Tania Davis is 2021 Miss Juneteenth Queen and Stasia Parker is runner-up. A’Rihanna Good is 2021 Junior Miss Juneteenth Queen and Ayriel Parker is Junior Miss runner-up. Kiva Knox and Taniah Johnson both were named Miss Congeniality in the Junior Miss Juneteenth contest. Jordin White and Wayne White are Juneteenth escorts.
Senior Little Miss participants are Jadin James, Kiah Amons, Erial Reifsteck, Dra’cionna Richardson, De’Asia Walker and Nefertitian Wooten.
Little Miss participants are Paisley Anderson, Elizabeth Baker, Kendreya Burton, Taniah Colter, Ty’tiana Easterling, Phoenix Shedd, Anastasia Wade and Kaisee Martinez.
Little Mister Juneteenth escorts are A’Mari Easterling, Elijah Reifsteck and Kelan White.
Veronica Wheeler, daughter of Lela P. Wheeler, joined by other Wheeler family members, spoke briefly in recognition of her mom, who was a founding member of the Crockett Juneteenth Celebration, along with Fisher and others and Billy “Hollywood” Groves, Groves Educational Foundation vice president offered comments about the event.
In bringing the Juneteenth event to a close, James Gentry, executive director of Crockett Economic & Industrial Development Corporation, led attendees in singing “We Shall Overcome” and prayed the closing prayer.