Long County had its first Juneteenth celebration Saturday at South Park in Ludowici.
The daylong event featured games and other activities for children and adults. The 912 Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Committee, which organized the Juneteenth Jubilee along with a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Ludowici for the last two years, hopes the Juneteenth celebration will become an annual event in Long County, said Tiwanna Blakley, the event’s public relations manager.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived on Galveston Island, Texas, and read General Orders, No. 3, informing slaves that they were free.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free,’ the order reads. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
“The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Liberty County Branch NAACP President Graylan Quarterman was the guest speaker. He tried to imagine what it would have been like to hear the general order read.
“I can imagine a slave standing at the footstep of the master’s porch, saying, ‘Master, I’m free, but I have nowhere to go. I have nothing of my own. Can I stay and work?’ And some did,” he said. “Can they stay and work for a portion of what they produce in the fields? And some of those stayed for a while and find out that they could not produce enough, that they could ever get on their feet.
“If I run to the end real quick, I’ll say, seems like some of us is in that same condition today, where it doesn’t seem like we can get on our feet,” he said.
He recounted several instances of what he called the “sickening” disease in America in this day and age. He listed the fatal shooting of nine members of Emanuel AME Church of Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015; the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on Feb. 26, 2012, by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman (who was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in 2013); and the most recent, worst mass shooting in U.S. history at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, which killed 49 people.
He said this disease will continue “until we realize that we must love everyone, that we are no different because of the color of our skin or the content of our character, that we are all human beings.”
Quarterman urged those listening to catch his vision for Long County, which he said is “doing pretty good, but I think it can do better.” They can improve the county, he said, by getting involved — getting educated and getting involved in their community.
“Let me tell you what politics is,” he said. “It is to determine who gets what and how much you get. So if you want to help determine who gets what, and how much they get, get into politics. And the way you get into politics is one vote at a time.”
Blakley, who is from Long County and returned recently from North Carolina, said Juneteenth is important because it is a chance to remember the end of slavery in this country.
“For this to be a vision of mine and to actually see it happening, this is the best thing I could ever ask for,” she said.