Juneteenth celebrated at Forks site

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212;A small but intimate libation ceremony honored Juneteenth Saturday.

Ser Sesh Ab Heter-C.M. Boxley began the ceremony by welcoming the crowd of approximately 20 people before explaining what Juneteenth symbolized.

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen., Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas, to inform the slaves that the Civil War was over and, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves were now free.

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&8220;Aside from the struggles of the Native Americans, this was the only real freedom struggle in the history of America,&8221; Boxley said.

Next, Jim Haney of the Natchez National Historic Park presented a recreated version of the flag used by the Union Army&8217;s 5th Heavy Artillery Colored Division.

&8220;Historians and people can say what they want about Confederate colored troops and what they did for our people, but these men (black Union troops) were the real freedom fighters for our enslaved ancestors,&8221; Boxley said.

The libation ceremony in part honored Wharlest Jackson Sr. who on Feb. 27, 1967, was killed when a bomb, allegedly placed by Ku Klux Klan members working at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company, exploded in Jackson&8217;s vehicle.

Jackson was killed, many believe, for taking a job at the company that had once belonged to white workers.

Jackson&8217;s son, Wharlest Jr., spoke of his father&8217;s murder and of the feelings he had toward those who killed him.

&8220;I will say that this ceremony is one of freedom,&8221; Jackson said. &8220;Freedom involves forgiveness. I have learned to forgive the men who murdered my father because if you don&8217;t know forgiveness, you don&8217;t know freedom.&8221;

Finally the libation, performed by Priestess Iyalorisa Oyasegun of Jackson, commemorated the colored soldiers of the Union Army and Navy from the Miss-Lou.

The ritual involved filling a ladle, made from a gourd plant, with water and pouring the water onto a corn plant while saying the names of black soldiers and sailors of the Civil War.

&8220;Like many native cultures, the gourd and corn are important symbols to our people,&8221; Oyasegun said. &8220;Most Western cultures believe that heaven is up above, but in African tradition, we believe that heaven is in the ground. So we offer the sacrifice of water and corn to our ancestors in the ground.&8221;

Boxley said the ceremony was moving and successful but he wished that younger blacks had attended the ceremony.

&8220;It is essential for the young black community to learn of their culture and history,&8221; Boxley said. &8220;Just as the Jews are taught to never forget the Holocaust, blacks should continue the fight for freedom.&8221;

The final event of the Juneteenth celebration is a youth and adult rodeo at the equestrian center on Foster Mound Road, today at 4 p.m.

Tickets are $5 for adults, 2$ for children 6-18 years old and children under 6 get in free.