Juneteenth: A celebration for all

Published 6:00 am Sunday, June 11, 2023

Each June since becoming your mayor in July of 2020, beginning in June of 2021 when I was blessed to be a part of a historic transference of the Forks of the Road site to the National Parks Service, a community-wide observance of this significant date has been my goal — and the City of Natchez has been intentional in our desire to observe it. This year, 2023, will be no different.

Juneteenth, now a national holiday, is a date that represents a deliverance of American Freedom to all citizens, for it was on that first Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, that Major General Gordon Granger issued an order that proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas, finally bringing freedom to all Americans who had formerly been slaves. This was some two and a half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and right at two years after enslaved people in Natchez were made aware of their freedom on July 13, 1863.

The earliest celebrations of Juneteenth date back to 1866 and were organized by churches as community gatherings. This year, we are celebrating this historic event in similar fashion with several events.

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On Tuesday, June 13th, the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen Meeting will be held at the NAPAC museum, which is dedicated to presenting the history and culture of African Americans in not only Natchez but the entirety of the southern United States. This is an annual tradition we started in June, 2021, and we look forward to continuing it as we meet at 11 am.

On Wednesday, June 14, we are continuing the tradition started in 2020 by my predecessor, Mayor Darryl V. Grennell, with our annual Day of Unity. This will be the fourth year we have held this event, and this year the ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Zion Chapel AME Church. We will celebrate harmony with both song and spoken word. One of my favorite parts of this event is when the sounding of the bells of churches throughout the city ring out as a reminder that we are all children of God made uniquely in His image.

On Thursday, June 15, at 6 p.m., we will have our Kick Back at NAPAC event. This year will be an extra special event as NAPAC, along with the City of Natchez, was selected by the Mississippi Historical Society to be awarded the prestigious 2023 Award of Merit for placing markers at 27 African American historic sites throughout the city. This year several citizens and businesses will be honored for their contribution to Natchez and delicious refreshments will be served. The public is encouraged to come and see the many wonderful artifacts displayed at the museum.

I am extremely excited about the City of Natchez’s marquee Juneteenth event for this year. The Legends Celebration will be held at the Natchez City Auditorium on Saturday, June 17, beginning at 6:30 p.m. This event will include performances by living musical legends from our area and will honor legends that have come before us as well. The headliner of the event is none other than blues, gospel, and R&B superstar Dorothy Moore. Joining her on stage will be a star-studded lineup to include Y.Z. Ealey, Alvin Shelby and the Legends Celebration Choir, Grammy Winner Alvin Youngblood Hart, and the wonderfully multi- talented Ora Reed. Legends being honored include Bud Scott, Walter Barnes, Daisy Newman, Larry Brown, Mississippi Mass Choir, The Williams Brothers, Hezekiah Early, Cassandra Wilson, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, and Hound Dog Taylor.

The City of Natchez is blessed with so many talented, brilliant, and giving citizens. It is an honor to give recognition to the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. I hope you will join me at one or all of these events as we celebrate Natchez’s one of a kind story. June is going to be jam packed with wonderful occasions of both somber reflection and joyous celebration. This truly is a time to come together. Because Natchez Deserves More!

Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.