The deaths of nine church-goers who were gunned down this week in Charleston, S.C., took center stage Friday at the city’s commemoration of Juneteenth, the 150th anniversary of the day that Texas slaves learned they had been freed.
African-American civic leaders and ministers said the killings were a reminder of the continued threat against black lives. Much like their ancestors, African-Americans live in peril today, they said.
“Our hearts are heavy on this day as we celebrate 150 years,” Fort Worth Councilwoman Kelly Allen-Gray said. “Freedom is not freedom. Death is ultimately the price that we pay to be free.”
Estrus Tucker, who was master of ceremonies at the Juneteenth program at City Hall, called the Charleston shootings “a reality check” and “wake-up calls.”
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The “danger and threat are not just in Charleston, South Carolina, but everywhere we go,” Tucker said. “How do we transform these tragic happenings to more hopeful conditions? … None of us have pulled ourselves up by our own boot straps. We have all advanced because of allies of different colors, different backgrounds, different faith orientations.
“We’re all in this together.”
Friday’s program was the 30th city Juneteenth celebration, officials said. In City Council chambers, an overhead slideshow featured African-American greats, such as educator Booker T. Washington, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and poet Maya Angelou.
There was live music, a cultural dance presentation and a keynote speech by the Rev. Marlon Jones, associate minister of Baker Chapel AME Church in Fort Worth.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, but it took more than two years for the news to reach Texas.
Texas slaves heard the news that they were freed on June 19, 1865, Jones told the audience. The day “radically changed the lives of some 800,000 enslaved blacks in Texas. … No longer could blacks be legally enslaved.
“For the first time in U.S. history, blacks could say with confidence, ‘I, too, am American.’”
Juneteenth “places a high value on the nameless faces that make up the rich legacy of sacrifice and commitment of black people in America.”
Jones called on African-Americans and others to go back to their communities to work for change.
“Now is not the time to be idle or indifferent, to sit by and react when things are happening,” he said. “Today serves as a day of reflection and appreciation. … It serves as a day of reminder as we think of all those who have suffered before us.
“Where do we go from here? I say, we go back to our communities, we stand up and speak out against threats and the structure of injustice.”
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705
Juneteenth events continue
▪ 9 a.m. — Juneteenth parade starts at the corner of East Rosedale Street and Evans Avenue and ends in Cobb Park.
▪ 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Juneteenth Festival in the Park, Cobb Park, 2700 Cobb Park Drive. Hip-hop concert from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, R & B concert from 3 to 7 p.m. Free. Shuttle service from parking lot at East Berry Street and South Riverside Drive.
11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday — Free group docent-led tours of Denton Historical Park Museums, the Bayless-Selby House and the Quakertown House. The tours chronicle the African-American experience in Denton before and after the displacement of Quakertown residents. Meet guides at 317 W. Mulberry St.
“Juneteenth in Texas: 150 Years of Freedom,” more than 60 photographs from across the state, is on display at the University of Texas at Arlington’s Central Library. Free and open to the public during library hours through Aug. 9. 817-272-3000.