Clarion University celebrated the fights for equal rights and voting rights at its 6th Annual Juneteenth Celebration.
Keynote speaker, storyteller Roland Barksdale-Hall presented “Sankofa: Go Back and Fetch It,” to the audience at the Gemmell Student Complex Multi-Purpose Room. Using his stories as examples for living, he emphasized five points about free people and 12 ways to health, wealth, and success.
Barksdale-Hall teaches at Butler County Community College and is president of JAH Kente International, Inc., a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit arts and cultural organization with a mission to nurture the cultural spirit of Africa. He holds three master’s degrees in public history and leadership from Duquesne University and library science from the University of Pittsburgh and is founder of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society of Pittsburgh.
Also speaking during the ceremony was student Brian Wankiiri, who spoke about human trafficking. Wankiiri, a graduate student from Pittsburgh is seeking his master’s of business administration degree.
Music, poetry, and a drill demonstration by the Buffalo Soldiers of VisionQuest under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Moss were also part of the program.
Dr. Hubert Toney, associate professor of music at Clarion University, accompanied by Debra Jones on keyboard, performed a musical selection on several brass instruments.
Esteban Brown a senior theatre major, a son of Karen Majocka of New Castle, and a graduate of New Castle High School, started the ceremony in song with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and ending the program with another musical selection “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”.
Students presenting poetry and other appropriate readings included: DeVon Madden, Calvin Archer, Braheem Foy, Dixon Jordan, and Geovannie Miller.
Madden, a senior liberal studies major, is from Pittsburgh and is a graduate of Brashear High School.
Archer, a sophomore arts and sciences major, is a son of Diane Nelson of Beaver Falls and is a graduate of Beaver Falls High School.
Foy, a freshman arts and sciences major, is a son of Valencia Foy of Philadelphia and is a graduate of Frankford High School.
Jordan, a sophomore environmental biology major, is a son of Wanda Jordan of Cheverly, Md., and is a graduate of Parkdale High School.
Miller, a junior sociology/philosophy major, is a son of Cleomie Miller of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School.
Lorenzo Lopez was the master of ceremonies. Lopez, a junior mass media arts, journalism, and communication studies major, is a son of Maria Kershaw of Harrisburg and is a graduate of Central Dauphin East High School.
Dr. Brenda Sanders Dédé, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Clarion University, provided the closing remarks. Tracy Becker, executive director of the Clarion Chamber of Commerce delivered the welcome.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. The holiday dates back to June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger and his Union Soldiers, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the slaves were now free. This happened two and a half year after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the small number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of the General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to quell any resistance.
Three major theories exist as to why it took so long for Texans to learn of the emancipation. One is a popular story of a messenger who was unable to reach Texas with the news because he was attacked and murdered along the way. Another is that the slave-owners did not tell their slaves in order to maintain the forced labor on the plantations. It is also theorized that federal troops actually waited to announce the news so they could receive on last cotton harvest.
Juneteenth celebrations declined over the years, and the Civil Rights Movement both encouraged and discouraged the event. While the movement pulled many African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. This was evidenced during the Atlanta civil rights campaign in the early 1960's, where student demonstrators wore Juneteenth freedom buttons.
In 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C., Rev. Ralph Abernathy's call for people all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activity. Two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after this March are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
In Texas, African American state legislator Al Edwards established Juneteenth as an official state holiday in 1980. The passage of the bill made Juneteenth the first emancipation celebration with official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of the holiday all across the United States.
Juneteenth has continued to enjoy a growing and healthy interest from communities and organizations throughout the country in the last two decades. The Smithsonian, Henry Ford Museum, and other institutions have sponsored Juneteenth-centered activities.
A complete history of the celebration and holiday is available at: http://www.elecvillage.com/juneteen.htm.
Clarion’s Juneteenth celebration is supported by a grant from the Clarion University Foundation Inc., with additional support from the Clarion University African America Caucus, and the Clarion Area Chamber of Commerce.