Greater Valley Area comes together for Juneteenth

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

LANETT — Despite temperatures sweltering into the mid to upper nineties, there was a good turnout for Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration in downtown Lanett. Vendors were set up under tents from the Jane Farrar Event Center along both sides of North Lanier Avenue to the downtown fountain and then up First Street toward the Lanett Housing Authority office.

Most of the attention was focused on a large stage that was set up between the historic Fraternal Hall and Stores Building and the fountain.

At 10 a.m. EDT, Greater Valley Area Juneteenth Committee Chair Carmen McCoy welcomed everyone for coming out and thanked a long list of sponsors for the annual event.

Email newsletter signup

The GVA Juneteenth celebration is one of the longest-running ones in the east-central Alabama region. Dr. Randy B. Kelley, the then pastor at Goodsell Methodist Church in Lanett, was instrumental in starting a local celebration that continues today. Juneteenth has been a national holiday since 2021. It has been a state holiday in Alabama and Georgia for the past four years.

Also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19th. It marks the date when African Americans in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom. General Gordon Granger officially notified them, setting off a joyous celebration on the part of the local African American population, almost all of whom had known nothing but enslavement for many generations preceding them.

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declared freedom for the enslaved people of the Confederate states. Slavery was officially outlawed everywhere in the U.S. with the adoption of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865.

A highlight of the local celebration was the delivery on horseback of a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to the stage, where it was read aloud by John Radford. Corey and Rodney Ross approached the stage on horseback along First Street. They also carried Juneteenth and U.S. flags.

“Thank you, Corey, for bringing this proclamation and thank you, John, for reading it,” said Lanett Mayor Jamie Heard. “Under the grace of Almighty God and generations of hard work and sacrifice by our ancestors, we have come a mighty long way. Today, as we commemorate 159 years of freedom. we pause to honor those brave souls’ loss through the centuries in the struggle for freedom. We offer gratitude to our sisters and brothers who stood with us on the freedom journey, and today we celebrate our many successes and achievements. As we push forward, I urge everyone in the Greater Valley Area to join us in making our communities a place where everyone is welcomed and proud to call home.”

Also greeting the crowd were West Point Mayor Steve Tramell and LaFayette Mayor Kenneth Vines.

“I enjoy coming to Juneteenth celebrations each year and learning more about Juneteenth,” Mayor Tramell said. “I especially like the recognition being extended to the lamp bearers this year.”

Mayor Vines said he greatly appreciated being there on Saturday and the continuing work of the local Juneteenth committee. “We’d love to have a program like this in LaFayette,” he said. “We are only a hop, skip and jump away. Those of us in LaFayette, Lanett, West Point and Valley are all interconnected.”

The lamp bearers include 11 local women and two local men who have reached at least 96 years of age. They are Lula Mae Roberts and Mary Sledge, who are both 107; Dorothy “Dot” Allen and Clemmie Jones, both of whom are 101; Mattie Davis, Elsie Johnson and Minnie Murphy, all 99; Nancy Huguley, who is 98; Jo Frances Jackson and Rose DeVance, each 97, and Maudie Taylor, who is 96. Of the men who are lamp bearers, former West Point City Councilman Alonza Ransom is 99 and Godfrey Greenwood is 96.

Lula Mae Roberts was present at the event. Two of her daughters, Shirley Jackson of West Point, and Rose London of Wichita, Kansas, escorted her to an area in front of the stage where she received a loud ovation. “We take turns in keeping her in a home environment,” Jackson said. “She is 107 and we make sure she has everything she needs. Thank you all so much for what you are doing today. This is a beautiful, wonderful occasion. Thank you for having it. We have been so blessed to have had our mother for so long.”

Otheria Sledge thanked the Juneteenth committee for honoring her mother on Saturday.

Retired educator Jo Frances Jackson was there and was ready with her quick wit to test people with a couple of brain teasers: (1) How many months of the year have 28 days? and (2) What goes up but never comes down?

A lot of people stumble on the first question. They say that February is the only one, but they are wrong. Every month has at least 28 days. February has 29 during leap years, April, June, September and November each have 30, and January, March, May, July, August, October and December each have 31 days.

The answer to the second question? Your age. It’s always going up but never goes down.

Mrs. Jackson’s age has gone up 96 times since her first birthday. The Good Lord willing, she will be 100 in 2027.

Other Juneteenth activities on Saturday included a soccer tournament, three-on-three basketball and a cornhole tournament at the W.O. Lance playground, gospel music from the stage by the Singing Disciples, Community Vision and Derrick Vines, country and western music from Brittany Avery Mullins and Latino music from Adry Sandoval. Secret Dimension was there for some rhythm and blues, Twilight for more blues and Mello for rap. The day concluded with a fireworks show on the Lanett Mill site. A rainstorm coming in from the northeast added the unexpected spectacle of some distant lightning flashes going off with the aerial show.