Juneteenth Celebration mighty hot, but huge success!

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Crowd inspired by Johnny Houston’s keynote speech

The KARAR Praise Dance Ministry delighted the crowd with their performance.

Lenora Jarvis-Mackey, President and CEO of River City Community Development Corporation, with Dr. Johnny Houston, the Festival’s featured speaker.

ELIZABETH CITY — There were vendors, games, a trolley ride, a Beauty Pageant and much more. The weather cooperated, sort of — except for the heat — and everyone had a very good time.

This celebration provides for people, of all races, to come together and remember the emancipation of slaves and history of the how they became free men and women, entering the society of the day without fear. In this context, Johnny Houston, a retired professor from Elizabeth City State University and world traveler, delivered a moving speech, which inspired and lifted everyone, including local dignitaries who were present.

The opening statements included comments by Rep Bob Steinburg, Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Joe Winslow, along with County Commissioner Betty Parker, and Elizabeth City Mayor Joe Peel.


They were introduced by event emcee Jeff Aydelette, publisher of the County Compass newspaper.

Contestants in the Miss Juneteenth and Juneteenth Princess pageants wore costumes depicting the nation’s multi-culturalism. Here, Shenell Brown, age 13, performs wearing Native American garb.

In delivering his remarks, Mr. Houston related that on June 19,1865, the Union Army under the command of Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas with 1,800 troops. They announced that the Civil War had ended and that the slaves were free. A huge celebration commenced, which was the first ‘Juneteenth Celebration’ – and which became the name for all similar celebrations to follow!

Houston also tackled other topics. Among them was his belief that the mentality of 1865 still exists in a few minds of 2015. A short time later, he commented that we should make certain that these 1865 minds not take us back to a negative place in the history of our country. He asked how many people know someone with a slave mentality. Commenting further, he stated that “We must help these people grow out of these mentalities.”

Houston asked “How many people have emancipated their minds? “How many have freed their minds from ideals and from positions and attitudes that have kept this country going negatively in the past?”

His remarks found a reverent reception among festival patrons. Speaking personally, this reporter was greatly moved by these remarks. So much so that I was driven to speak to Mrs. Houston, a member of the school board, in the midst of the speech to express my deep appreciation for her husband’s very special and uplifting words.

This speech was delivered to a local audience. But the meaning behind it was especially poignant in light of the massacre in South Carolina. Everyone that heard the words of forgiveness from the victim’s families was moved to tears. So this speech had meaning that was far and away more than simply the words. It was a statement of healing, not only for today but for the generations of all those who preceded us.

There have been numerous racially connected problems in our nation’s past. But, at this particular time, the racial divide seems to have become worse in recent years. Many people have different beliefs about why that is and what to do about it. But it is obvious that when Gov. Nicki Haley said that the heart of South Carolina was broken, she choked back tears and she was speaking for all of us. And Mr. Houston was speaking directly to us, offering forgiveness for slavery, in the best religious traditions of turn the other cheek.

If we are to learn from South Carolina and from Johnny Houston, we must build bridges, real and metaphorical to improve relations between the races. That will take numerous paths and much time and effort. But what we have learned from recent events is that we must all be willing to make a good faith effort. But with the forgiveness in mind that we heard from families in South Carolina, how can we go wrong?

God Bless us all!!!

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