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COVID-19 forces one-year wait for celebration

The holiday and celebration of Juneteenth have been very much in the news lately. However, many do not know much about it. 

The Effingham County Branch NAACP and the Springfield Central High School Association Inc. scheduled an event for June 19, 2019, to celebrate Juneteenth. As this event was the first public celebration of Juneteenth in Effingham County, the members of both groups decided to make it educational. 

Edies Cope, the current president of the Effingham County Branch of the NAACP; Lucy Powell, an original member of the Effingham County NAACP in 1968; and Willie Wright, the chief rxecutive officer of the Springfield Central High School Association Inc., seized the opportunity. As such, Wright gave a comprehensive speech on the history of Juneteenth.

The members of both groups had every intention to expand the celebration of Juneteenth this year to move beyond education to a more jubilant fashion. Then, the coronavirus pandemic took place and Cope and the members of both organizations postponed this more exuberant celebration until June 19, 2021, or thereabout.

So what does the Juneteenth celebration commemorate? The national registry of Juneteenth organizations and support groups reports that “Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration, commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.”

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, under the leadership of Gen. George Granger, in Galveston, Texas, informed the former slaves in Texas that they were indeed free. In reality, by executive order, known as the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln had abolished slavery on Jan. 1, 1863, some two and one- half years before the Union soldiers informed the slaves in Texas.

Certainly, news traveled slowly in those days — no e-mail, no Internet, no 24-hour hour news cycle. In addition, the surrender of Confederate troops, under the leadership of Gen. Robert E. Lee, occurred in April 1865.

Many of the branches of the NAACP nationwide, including the Effingham County Branch, have a history of celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation each year on Jan. 1. In the past. some branches, most especially and appropriately in Texas, have celebrated Juneteenth on or around June 19, often in a jubilant fashion.

Powell reports that locally branches of the NAACP have a history of Juneteenth celebrations. She cites as examples Savannah, Statesboro and Hilton Head Island, S.C. She adds that the Effingham County Branch will be included, hopefully starting on June 19, 2021.