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‘This is our Independence Day’

Numerous celebrations were held and will be ongoing nationwide this weekend

Numerous celebrations were held and will be ongoing nationwide this weekend

Delayed recognition is nothing new in the ongoing movement for a more civil society, a society which aspires to the words of Thomas Jefferson in the 1776 text “all men are created equal.”

But to achieve that ideal, critical examination and reflection upon the past, or “Sankofa” some say is required.

Saturday, for the first time in 156 years, a date significant to at least 46.8 million individuals in the United States will be celebrated nationwide as a federal holiday recognizing the end to legal slavery in this country.

“The oldest ongoing celebration actually occurs in Gallipolis, which includes some of my family (Melungeons or BIPOC),” reflected Tony Mayle, assistant director of diversity and inclusion at Marietta College.

Note: The BIPOC acronym stands for “Black, Indigenous and people of color.”

Melungeon is a term for groups of individuals who descend from a mixture of European and Sub-Saharan African ancestry.

Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana also associated with a symbol of a bird with its head turned backward and feet forward carrying an egg in its mouth, or a stylized heart shape. The literal translation of the word and the symbol is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

And though the federal recognition of Juneteenth follows a history of delays, it also afforded an opportunity for learners of all ages in Marietta on Friday to think critically about how they view and treat others.

“You can’t control if your skin is darker than mine,” said Landon Knapp, 10, of Williamstown, in reflection of Friday’s Brain Gain lesson on slavery and civil rights at the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County. “Just like that Michael Jackson song ‘Black or White’ you know? People are more than colors.”

Meanwhile, adult learners and community members recognized Juneteenth despite rain on the Christy Mall Friday.

“We also had a couple of Sankofa statues on display and (explained) the importance of the symbol and how it relates to current U.S. events and racial climates,” described Mayle, noting educational elements included in the event like descriptions with differing Black liberation flags and outlining the symbolic meanings of the colors. “Finally, we had food symbolic of Juneteenth, red meats, watermelon and strawberry soda … red symbolizes the bloodshed by those enslaved in the U.S. from the continent. We also had the privilege of having the Spirit of Frederick Douglas present and he answered many questions about those held in bondage and the true meaning of freedom and education.”

But whether the history lesson started in a classroom or in the open air, both educational locations offered the recognition as a mere starting point for individuals to learn more.

“There’s so much history in less than 200 years when we talk about civil rights,” said Sage Gibbs, a 19-year-old youth development specialist at the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County. “Calaya and I were talking this week about how much there is to fit in to talk about in that timespan.”

“This morning was just giving a basic history because I wanted to end it with open-ended questions,” said Calaya Rake, teen coordinator. “It was more about making sure to facilitate an environment where they feel like they can ask questions before making assumptions.”

One place to start is the arbitrary 100 days between the drafted Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, and the official declaration on Jan. 1, 1863, by then-President Abraham Lincoln.

Then followed by another 901 days before enslaved human beings in Texas heard from Union General Gordon Granger that they were no longer legally chattel.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” he declared to the city of Galveston.

West Virginia didn’t abolish slavery until that same year (in February) and both Delaware and Kentucky did not see the abolition of slavery until December of that year when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified.

And yet, 100 years and 70 days following June 19, 1865, today called Juneteenth, the admonition for freedom continued.

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded the gathered crowd in 1963. “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment … 1963 is not an end, but a beginning.”

“I think the next discussion we can talk about is culture, music and how we use our words,” said Rake, with eyes on additional opportunities to connect in a way that makes talking about race and oppression “not too scary to talk about.”

Mayle said Friday that his hope is to connect more local residents to a more full view of local history.

“I want the locals to understand how close Marietta and other Ohio River communities were to legalized, forced servitude of human beings,” he shared. “Human beings that survived the dangers of the sea, unforgiving conditions of the fields and traumas of a master. I want everyone to understand that this is our Independence Day.”

See future editions of the Times for more on Washington and Morgan county historic ties to the Underground Railroad, Black soldiers in the American Revolution and the central Appalachian tradition of Emancipation Saturday.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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