The Lamp Bearers

Published 10:10 am Friday, June 14, 2024

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LANETT — A highlight of Saturday’s annual Juneteenth celebration in downtown Lanett will be the recognition of the lamp bearers. These are 13 people in the Greater Valley Area who have been blessed with long lives. The 11 women and two men being recognized have each lived to at least 96 years of age. Two of the women, Lula Roberts and Mary Sledge are 107.

At a recent meeting of the Lanett City Council, Trudye Johnson of the GVA Juneteenth Committee explained the meaning of a lamp bearer. “They are distinguished people who have kept their lamps trimmed so that others could follow during a century of tremendous transformation – wars, civil rights changes, the atomic bomb, men landing on the Moon, medical advances, cultural shifts and technological innovations,” she said. “As earthly vessels, these lamp bearers followed Jesus’ word not to hide their light and to share it so that all could see. First and foremost, each of our lamp bearers has cited a deep and abiding faith in God and says that God is at the core of their beliefs and existence.”

The focus of this year’s Juneteenth educational project is on the ingenuity and viewpoints each lamp bearer has in four specific areas: (1) noteworthy events in history that impacted their lives, (2) the secret to living a long and fruitful life, (3) advice they would give a young person or a new baby and (4) habits and special interests which contributed to their longevity.

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Lula Roberts and Mary Sledge were born in 1916. That was before the U.S. entered World War I. Roberts’ parents were Daniel and Annie Chappell. She was one of eleven siblings and had 12 children of her own. “I lived and raised my family in the same home for almost 88 years,” she said. “I have been proud to see my family grow into lawyers, doctors, teachers, butchers, electricians and many other professions,” she said. “One of my biggest disappointments came when the Department of Motor Vehicles told me they would not renew my driver’s license because of my age. I was 97 at the time. I believe in what the Bible says about honoring your father and your mother, that your days will be long if you do this. I encourage people to be thankful for whatever someone gives you, even if it’s old, ugly and something you dislike. Just remember, one day someone will give you a treasure you will always love.”

Mary Sledge was among seven siblings born to Frank and Anna Jones. She had four children of her own. “I was born in the middle of World War I (it started in 1914) and lived through World War II,” she said. “Some of the major events that impacted my life included the assassination of an American president, John F. Kennedy; his brother Robert Kennedy and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Books were scarce during my childhood, but we learned much from storytelling. I loved learning from my elders. When I was raising my own children I used storytelling to teach skills to them and their friends.”

The secret to long life? Mrs. Sledge advises to stay away from alcohol and smoking. “Have a diet rich in green vegetables and limit white foods,” she said. “Always listen to and respect your parents and your elders. Above all else, put Christ Jesus first in all you do.”

The Juneteenth celebration dates to the end of the Civil War. Slavery was abolished in 1863 in all states loyal to the Union and in the former states of the Confederacy by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in December 1865. Word was slow to reach all areas of the region. African Americans living in Galveston, Texas did not learn of their freedom until June of 1865 when Union Army forces commanded by General Gordon Granger told them of it. It set off a highly emotional celebration of music, dance, grateful praise and prayer. It was such a memorable event that it established a new tradition in the area’s African American community. They called it “Juneteenth” because it takes place in the middle of June. It celebrates the basic right of human beings to be free.

At its June 3rd council meeting, the council approved a proclamation recognizing Saturday, June 15th as this year’s date to celebrate the holiday in the city. “For more than 159 years,” the proclamation reads, “Juneteenth National Freedom continues to be the most recognized African American observance celebrated. In the fall of 2010, the Greater Valley Juneteenth Committee was convened by Dr. Randy B. Kelley to sponsor a series of inaugural events to commemorate Juneteenth.”

In 2012, Alabama became the 40th state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Georgia recognized it the next year. It’s been a national holiday since June 15, 2021.

Juneteenth is an employee holiday in Lanett and West Point. “Community organizations, businesses, churches, volunteers and residents are strong proponents of the Juneteenth celebration in the Greater Valley Region,” the proclamation continues. “The June 2024 Juneteenth events will include a farmer’s market, a community festival, the proclaiming of the Emancipation Proclamation. and a fireworks show. The City of Lanett extends best wishes to all Juneteenth visitors, guests and friends. By the authority vested in me as Mayor of the City of Lanett and with the support of the Lanett City Council, I, Jamie Heard, do hereby proclaim the celebration of the 159th Juneteenth in the City of Lanett.”

Saturday’s downtown events get underway at 10 a.m.