Hundreds gather for Juneteenth celebration

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 17, 2001

Groups of family and friends sat in the shade of Melrose’s towering oaks on a hot Saturday afternoon, their attention fixed on a speaker whose voice rose and fell in ancient accents.

At Natchez’s seventh annual Juneteenth Family Fun Day, Marquetta Goodwine, queen quet and chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, told of ancestors who had to walk the grounds of houses like Melrose with 100-pounds sacks of cotton on their backs.

These were people who, before they were carried from Africa in &uot;the belly of the beast,&uot; wrote and spoke African languages fluently, were well-versed in science and technology and had mastered crafts such as blacksmithing, she said.

&uot;Folks have asked me why people are still talking about (Juneteenth),&uot; Goodwine told the crowd. &uot;It’s because you don’t have a future without a past. Children must know, and in order for them to know we’ve got to teach them.&uot;

In all, more than 500 people gathered Saturday on the grounds of the antebellum house to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery.

Goodwine, queen quet and chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation in the islands of South Carolina, performed a dramatic presentation and a libation ceremony.

&uot;The entertainment, the education background this gives you, the gospel music – this is all our heritage,&uot; said Joanna Dewborne of Natchez. &uot;This is my first time here, and so far it’s been very nice.&uot;

That is the point, said Royal Hill, one of the event’s organizers. &uot;You’ve got to know where you came from in order to understand where you’ve got to go,&uot;&160;said Hill, who called Saturday’s turnout &uot;tremendous.&uot;