By Tom Travis
“We are celebrating our history. This is for our tradition. This is for our heritage,” DeWaun Robinson, leader of Black Lives Matter Flint said to a crowd of about 200 today observing Juneteenth in Max Brandon Park at the corner of Pasadena and Dupont streets in the north end of Flint.
The day also included an announcement from Mayor Sheldon Neeley that his administration is taking steps to make Juneteenth an official holiday of the City of Flint.
Robinson, with passion in his voice, said to the audience, “Juneteenth is a very important piece. It’s a very important time for Black people. And if you understand the times right now we are at a pivotal moment.”
Robinson continued, “It used to be that Black people were afraid to talk about being Black and wearing this skin. But if you know about the people who fought before us so that we can be in the positions we are in now that this (referring to Black skin) is a badge of honor.
“You can’t get this. You can’t buy this. We should cherish each other, value one another, recognize where each other is at and lift each other up.”
Calling on the allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, Robinson said, “To our allies, white people, we need y’all to continue to stand strong and be involved in lifting up Black people, ending white supremacy and discrimination. The whole paradigm that we grew up in is changed. This is a different time, a different view, different way.”
Then calling the names of iconic Black leaders of the past, Robinson pleaded with the younger generations not to be scared. He said, “Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Huey P. Newton: We should all embrace that spirit that they had. It’s not about being scared. This generation right now ain’t scared, at least I know I ain’t scared.”
Mayor Neeley declares Juneteenth an official holiday in the City of Flint
In an email sent to media Friday afternoon, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley stated “In recognition of our history and in honor of the great achievements of African-Americans to our community and our country, we will begin today the process of declaring Juneteenth an official holiday in the City of Flint forevermore.”
Neeley added, “We will remember. We will honor, We will move foreward. Together. Unity is strenth. Together, we can and we will demand – once and for all – freedom. Let us march on ’til victory is won.”
Flint City Council President Galloway grew up in California but experienced Juneteenth first in Flint
City Council President, Monica Galloway (7th Ward) was in the audience today celebrating Juneteenth. EVM asked her what Juneteenth meant to her she said, “Despite all the challenges and difficulties going on in the world right now you can come out here and feel the love and the unity. You can tell people are celebrating here today. It’s multi-generational out here. So what Juneteenth means to me if you look at the history is about those who thought they weren’t free they were told you really are free.”
“We may not have experienced all the freedom that we should have today is about a day of celebrating. Having grown up in California Galloway said she did not recall Juneteenth celebrations as a child. She said she didn’t really hear about Juneteenth until she moved to Flint. And when people talk about the resilience of Flint, MI for someone who has lived in another city and state, that is an understatement. This community as you can see with all the racism that we experience on a daily basis you can multi-cultural come together out here today.”
Councilperson Eric Mays makes his first outing after 90 days of quarantine
EVM asked Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) what Juneteenth meant to him.
“Juneteenth means Black folk are starting to get an equal shake. The struggle continues. We were slaves and brought over here in slave ships. They told us we were free and we thought that meant we could vote and have civil rights.” Mays said.
He continued, “So every year we come here to this park. We do a march, a celebration and extenuate that and acknowledge the history. I show up year after year. It means something to me that people are conscious of this celebration. Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. I’ve been in quarantine for 90 days and this is my first outing.”
Claressa Shields tells Juneteenth audience, “We are free-ish. Because we are not fully free. We want to become more free.”
Olympic Gold Medal and World Champion Boxer and Flint native Claressa Shields visited the Juneteenth celebration. Shields’ message was to promote voter registration. She invited all those 18 years or older to visit the NAACP table set up in the park and register to vote.
Encouraging voters. Shields said, “Do your research on candidates. Find out about the issues and what each candidate is running for.” She ended by reminding the audience, “We are free-ish. Because we are not fully free. We want to become more free.”
Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866, 3 years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves. It became effective on January 1, 1863 but it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, two and half years later, that slaves in Texas were informed they were free.
Slave owners in Texas had refused to acknowledge the end of slavery and ignored the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation the U.S. Constitution still needed to be amended to legally abolish slavery. In 1865 the 13th Amendment was ratified declaring once and for all that slavery was illegal.
Lawmakers in Lansing are working on legislation today to establish Juneteenth as a State holiday in Michigan.
Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson
The lyrics of the second verse to what is commonly referred to as the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, give a taste of the meaning behind the celebration of Juneteenth.
“Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”
Due to technical difficulties EVM was not able to have any photographs of the Juneteenth event today. We apologize.
EVM Assistant Editor and reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.