First Juneteenth celebrated in Calvin Township

Published 1:40 am Thursday, June 26, 2003

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Cassopolis Vigilant
CALVIN CENTER -- A bucket of peanuts sat on a display of items remembering those African Americans who contributed to our nation's history. on the other side of the Calvin Township Hall was a spread of delicious food, including black eyed peas, corn bread with crackling and barbeque
June 19, Juneteenth, celebrated in other parts of the country for years, was a day of good food, fellowship and speeches, for the first time in Cass County last Thursday.
Cass County Commissioners made appearances throughout the afternoon, as the local coordinator of the event, Carolyn Kelly of Vandalia, kept on keeping the dishes filled.
Rev. Rayvon Bufkin of the House of Prayer Church in Cassopolis spoke about the slaves hope for freedom.
The celebration of freedom is what Juneteenth is all about.
Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865 -- two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation -- marks the date when many slaves in Texas learned that they had been freed.
For more than 100 years African Americans in Texas and all over the country have been celebrating this special holiday
Slaves had no freedom to work and live as they chose. They were owned, like other possessions. If you were a slave child, you would not be allowed to attend school. (It was against the law to teach a slave to read and to write.) Your family might be separated for life if your owner decided to sell any one of you to someone else in another city or state.
Slaves had little time for play. Everyday life was more than difficult. They worked from early morning until late at night. Many times they were beaten if their owners did not feel they were working hard enough.
Slaves were expected to do very hard, dirty, back-breaking work. They dug wells and canals, planted and tended crops, made furniture, shoed horses and built houses. And they also cooked, cleaned and took care of their owners' children. All of this, and so much more, they did without being paid.
Large celebrations on June 19 began in 1866 and continued regularly into the early 20th century. African-Americans treated this day like the Fourth of July and the celebrations contained similar events.
In the early days, the celebration included a prayer service, speakers with inspirational messages, reading of the emancipation proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, red soda water, games, rodeos and dances.
The celebration of June 19 as emancipation day spread from Texas to the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma as African-American Texans migrated.
Celebration of Juneteenth declined during World War II, but revived in 1950 at the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas.
Interest and participation fell away during the late 1950s and '60s as attention focused on expansion of freedom for African Americans.
In the 1970s, Juneteenth returned in some communities.
The Minority Coalition of Cass County, in existence since 1996, sponsored the Junetenth celebration. Its President Ruth Newton invites all those interested to attend the monthly meetings, held the third Tuesday of the month, usually at the Cass County Council on Aging at 8:30 a.m. July will be skipped because of the County Fair. Leave your name at (269) 476-2242 for more information.