Sovah Health-Martinsville and its community partners hosted a Juneteenth event with a panel of speakers to highlight the history of Juneteenth and its relevance to the community on Monday.
Speakers included: Charles Whitfield as Moderator, President of Martinsville and Henry County Chapter of NAACP Naomi Hodge-Muse, Faye Holland of Martinsville Seven Initiative, Director of Workforce Development at Patrick and Henry Community College Shelira Morrison, Associate Professor at Averett University Antoinette Gazda, Dr. James McKay of Sovah Health-Martinsville and grandson of Wendell Scott Lex Hairston.
“We are grateful, not only for this day and the opportunity to come together in person and virtually, we are grateful that our community comes together to celebrate in this way,” Whitlock said. “On June 19, 1865…Major General Gordon Granger issued an order to more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas, they were to be freed by executive order.”
“On this day, Galveston Bay, Texas became famous in American history as the site where the last official day of slavery existed in the United States,” Whitlock added. “This monumental decree was significant because there were thousands of slaves who had not been publicly told of their freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.”
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“Juneteenth is now, thank goodness, a federal holiday celebrating emancipation in the United States and has been celebrated within the African-American community since 1866,” he said. “June 19 was officially signed into law on Thursday, June 17, 2021 by our current President, Joseph R. Biden Jr., commemorating June 19 as National Independence Day, Jubilee Day, emancipation and freedom day towards independence of black people for all. .”
Whitlock then introduced Lex Hairston, Wendell Scott’s grandson, to come and share some stories of his grandfather. Hairston said Scott was “the first and only African American … to race for an extended career” in NASCAR at the time. He shared some stories about his grandfather’s racing career and the struggles and discrimination he faced and how he overcame it.
Whitlock then moderated questions from guest panelists: Hodge-Muse, Holland, Gazda and Morrison.
One of the questions he posed to Hodge-Muse was, “What does Juneteenth mean to you, and why do so many African Americans now celebrate this federal holiday with joy, happiness, and compassion, considering the simple fact that most Americans never really debated discussions of the trauma of 246 years of slavery?
She began by reading a quote from Frederick Douglass when asked what African-American slaves thought of the 4th of July. “Oh, if I had the ability, and if I could reach the ear of the nation, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting mockery, searing rebukes, scathing sarcasm and stern rebukes.
“The feeling of the nation must be vivified; the conscience of the nation must be awakened; the property of the nation must be frightened; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and exposed,” she said.
“For the American slave, what is your 4th of July? I answer: a day which reveals to him, more than all the other days of the year, the gross injustice and the cruelty of which he is the constant victim” , she read. “To him, your celebration is a sham; your vaunted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, inflated vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brazen brow impudence; your cries of freedom and equality, hollow mockery.
She continued to read his quote “There is not a nation on earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
“June 19 is our birthday,” she said. “June 19 is what we celebrate because we weren’t free in 1777 when they had the very first Independence Day. Frederick Douglass spoke about it and I couldn’t say it any better than what I’ve read.
Monique Holland is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at [email protected] or 276-734-9603.