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Freedom for all

Juneteenth will be celebrated at H.C. Meriwether Park

Music, food and fellowship will all be part of a Juneteenth celebration at H.C. Meriwether Park on Saturday.

And the holiday, which commemorates the freedom of African Americans from slavery, could be a little extra sweet this year, according to Sherry Washington, president of NAACP — Fort Dodge and Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee. That’s because the U.S. Congresss passed a bill on Wednesday that would establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day. Once the legislation reaches President Joe Biden’s desk, it’s likely to become law, according to published news reports.

“It’s even bigger now because it’s a national holiday,” Washington said. “For African Americans, it’s considered our Fourth of July. Not that we take anything away from Independence Day or the traditional Fourth of July. However, it’s very special for African Americans. We celebrate independence twice a year.

“It’s something that’s really glorious for us. It’s an outstanding achievement for everyone nationally and it also brings more awareness to what Juneteenth is all about and what it really is.”

Washington hopes the federal holiday designation will bring more awareness to the reason why it is celebrated.

“For so many years, people didn’t know much about it,” Washington said. “With it as a national holiday, I’m sure more history classes will teach more about it. It’s something that should not be buried in history. It should be at the forefront along with any other holiday.”

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which abolished slavery in the rebellious states, the news didn’t immediately reach African American slaves in the south.

At least one account tells of a messenger traveling by mule from Washington, D.C., to Texas to deliver the news of freedom.

It took that messenger two years to reach the final destination.

“The stories go that it took so many messengers to try and deliver the news,” Washington said. “There were several messengers that went through a lot to get it there.”

It was on June 19, 1865, that Union Gen. Gordon Granger led thousands of federal troops to Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended, and slaves were now free.

It is that freedom which is cause for celebration.

On Saturday, four people will be honored for their commitment to the Fort Dodge community.

Bishop Leroy Johnson, of Calvary Memorial Church; his wife, Barbara Johnson; Dennis Wilson and Judge Brown, will be honored.

“Bishop Johnson and Mother Johnson worked tirelessly in the community,” Washington said. “A lot of their work is unseen. Probably 90 percent of it. They feed the community. They have the free food pantry at the church. A reading program and mentorships and tutoring and different classes at their Calvary Center across the street from the church. All the different education and advice they’ve given to the community and all the families they have supported in the community, both Caucasian, African American and Hispanic. They have been a staple in the community for over 50 years.”

Judge Brown and Dennis Williams are retired teachers. They both taught in the Fort Dodge Community School District.

“I admire both for their contributions to the African American community and Fort Dodge community through their teachings as well as being role models for young men,” Washington said. “They are both just really good people. They all have a heart for the community. All four.”

Zac Nuzum, of Fort Dodge, will be responsible for the musical selection, which he said will feature prominent Black musicians.

“I am going to do a lot of the greatest hits, artists like The Temptations,” Nuzum said. “There will be some ’90s R&B and hip-hop. Genuine music where they had something to say.”

Nuzum will also be among volunteers handing out free books about Black history.

The books will include fun facts and biographies about historical figures who were instrumental in the cause of freedom.

Juneteenth is a hopeful holiday for Nuzum.

“To me personally, it’s hope,” Nuzum said. “It gives me all the more reason to get up, knowing where we started and everything that these individuals have gone through. I haven’t even gone through an ounce of that. Many things can get done if I’m truly passionate and give my best effort.”

He also believes the holiday can be a way to have peaceful conversations about race.

“With the racial tension going on it’s these holidays that can bring us together,” Nuzum said. “Celebrate and educate. It helps us get to know each other in a peaceful environment.”

TC Mae’s and Clayton’s Ribs and Chicken will be among the food vendors at the park, which is located on 10th Avenue Southwest between Eighth and Ninth streets in Pleasant Valley.

Juneteenth is a time for reflection and a time to be thankful, Washington said.

“For me, I believe that everyone deserves to be free,” she said. “It’s just a blessing that it happened. Without the Emancipation Proclamation, where would our history be in regards to freedom for all? That gives everyone an equal chance to be an American. An equal chance for everyone to be first class. With all that it brings respect. I was always taught that respect was earned. It’s not something you take for granted. I think everyone — not just African Americans — everyone should have that level of respect. So for me, Juneteenth delivered that respect for African Americans to have the same privileges and rights of any other American citizen.”

If you go:

What: Juneteenth celebration

Where: H.C. Meriwether Park

Time: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Cost: Free

Collaboration: Pleasant Valley Awareness Committee, NAACP — FD, Second Baptist Church, Building Community, and Athletics for Education and Success

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