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Celebrating Juneteenth
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A group of Liberty County Minority Chamber members gather at the Justice Center in downtown Hinesville as they prepare to host the countys first annual Juneteenth parade June 17. The parade starts 10 a.m. Saturday and follows the MLK parade route. Pictured (l-r) Michael Womack, Alicia Jones, Fulvia Letman, Tori Turner, Monique Gipson, Kathey Knott, Dexter Newby. - photo by Alena Cowley

Celebration and education are the goals when locals parade downtown Hinesville June 17 for a holiday that organizers say is just as important as Fourth of July.

The Liberty County Minority Chamber is hosting the parade for Juneteenth, a holiday typically celebrated on June 19. It was June 19, 1865 when soldiers first informed African American slaves in Texas that the Civil War was over and slaves were free, even though the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

“This is a day we need to celebrate. This is a day we need to educate. This is a day we just need to rejoice in who we are,” LCMC president Sabrina Newby said. “We want (the community) to be just as proud of Juneteenth as we are on Fourth of July.”

Saturday’s parade will start at 10 a.m. and follow the same route used for the Dr. Martin Luther King parade, LCMC community events director Alicia Jones explained.

High energy from smiling faces, crowd waving, decorations, and plenty of American flags are guaranteed in the parade with the possibility of floats, candy, and music.

Organizers are hoping to duplicate Liberty County’s traditional parade atmosphere, just under a different occasion. The Juneteenth parade is a county first.

“This is a community event and we’re looking for everyone to be a part of it,” Newby said. “We want people to understand this is not about color, it is about our history, not just black history,”

According to Newby, understanding history includes celebrating history “and all that that entails.”

“We can’t erase the past. We didn’t create the past, so what do we do?” she said. “Do we stay in the past? Do we wallow in it or do we celebrate it? This is a time now to come into self-awareness, to just embrace ourselves and celebrate ourselves and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

‘An age of awareness’

The Louisiana native recalled how she would visit relatives in Texas, the holiday’s actual birthplace, and Texans celebrated Juneteenth in a big way. She described river walk parades in Beaumont, Texas, big beach barbecues in Galveston, Texas, and “people from all over the country and different backgrounds.”

“My husband’s retired military, so we’ve been all over the world,” Newby explained.  “Mostly in the larger cities is where they actually host events for Juneteenth.”

Savannah has an annual event for the holiday. Closer to home, Ludowici held an event last year.

“So, I was very curious to know why there wasn’t anything ever hosted here in Liberty County, being that this is such a diverse population and especially with the military,” Newby said.

She explained the local Juneteenth celebration has been in the works almost since LCMC started a year ago. And there is one response she gets a lot when talking about it.

“The first thing I hear is ‘What is it?’” Newby said, adding how people are “really shocked by the history,” when she explains it.

“The reason why I felt it was so important is because I believe we’re just coming into an age of awareness,” Newby said.

Newbie and Jones admitted Liberty County’s first Juneteenth parade will start off small, but they have big hopes for the annual event.

“We want our grandkids to be able to say ‘Hey, are you going to participate in the Juneteenth parade?’” Newby said. “Even if I’m not here or Alicia’s not coordinating it, we want the next generation to be able to say ‘We’re excited.’”

An Open Invitation
Besides being a legacy-builder, they also want event participation to be all-inclusive.

“At the end of the day, we’re all Americans,” Newby said. “We hope that everyone will come in and say, ‘Hey, my community is putting on a Juneteenth parade and I’m going to be a part of it.’”

Automatically dismissing the event is “just isolating yourself,” according to Newby, who said differences should not prevent people from having conversations and relating with one another.

“I think it is OK to celebrate who you are, whether you’re white, brown, red, yellow. It is OK to celebrate that and begin to understand our differences,” she said.

LCMC’s Hispanic Council is set to participate in the parade, Newby added, noting the Chamber’s Viva La Cultura event in October to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.  

Anyone who wants to walk in the Juneteenth parade has until Friday to sign up. Registration fee for non-members is $25, which will go toward offsetting event costs.

Newby acknowledge the parade is the same day as local-favorite, the 17th annual Walk to Dorchester, but it was completely unintentional.

“Hopefully, next year we can work with them because the Dorchester Walk is something to celebrate and we want to be a part of that,” she said.

The Liberty County Minority Chamber started March 2016. Since then, more than 50 members have joined and “we’re constantly growing,” according to Newby.

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