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Celebrating Juneteenth

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Local community comes together to celebrate

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    The Milledgeville City Council also issued a proclamation for Juneteenth. TIMBERLY SPIKES/Staff
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    The Baldwin County Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation for the Juneteenth celebration. TIMBERLY SPIKES/Staff
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    Milly Free Fridge was one of the vendors present during Saturday’s celebration. TIMBERLY SPIKES/Staff

This past weekend, people all across the country came together to celebrate Juneteeth The holiday marks the end of slavery in the confederate south.

To spread awareness and celebrate, the NAACP Baldwin-Milledgeville chapter held a community-wide picnic at Central City Park. The event featured local vendors, free food and live music. The picnic also included a history presentation by Dr. Veronica Womack, executive director of the Rural Studies Institute at Georgia College.

Local NAACP President and District 10 Coordinator Cynthia Ward-Edwards says, although the holiday now has national recognition, there is still work to be done.

“We are now turning our focus to the John Lewis voting act, the George Floyd act and getting education inside the school system about Black Americans and their accomplishments. We have a long way to go, but if we can work together in solidarity, we can get there.”

Even though many were thankful that the holiday has begun gaining national recognition, some see it as a symbolic victory. Several states, including Georgia, have passed voting acts that aim to limit voter drop boxes, ban passing out water at polling lines and generally make it harder to vote by mail. The majority of the changes affect minority voters.

Even though she acknowledges there is still work to be done, Edwards is glad that the community could come together to celebrate.

“I know our ancestors are looking down and happy for us. We have been trying for several years to make this a holiday.”

The day started with a special announcement from Alderwoman and Mayor Pro-tem Denese Shinholster. She awarded the NAACP chapter a proclamation recognizing Juneteeth as a holiday on behalf of the Mayor and City Council.

The Baldwin County Board of Commissioners gave and presented its proclamation during the last commissioners’ meeting. However, none of the commissioners were in attendance to read the declaration to the community members. Edwards did give a special thanks to District 1 commissioner Emily C. Davis for pushing the proclamation forward.

The community picnic brought together people from diverse backgrounds, all with the centralized goal of celebrating being free. Milly Free Fridge passed out fresh produce from local farmers to show their support.

“To me, being here means one step closer reparations, one step closer to redistricting resources. The Milly Free Fridge organizers are all white women. We try to use our privilege to connect with people who have extra and get it to places with a need to meet,” said Jessica McQuain, one of the organizers for Milly Free Fridge.

Milly Free Fridge passed out free and fresh produce donated by local farmers from the Milledgeville community.

“Our goal is to establish free refrigerators that are available to the community 24/7,” McQuain said. “It is a community project, so there are no specific people in charge. It really relies on people pitching in when they can.”

In 2011, Georgia became the 37th state to recognize Juneteeth formally. On Friday June 17, President Joe Biden signed the National Juneteeth Independence Day Act, making the day that marks Black liberation from slavery at the end of the Civil War a federal holiday.

Although many federal employees were given the day off in observance of the day, Gov. Brian Kemp blocked the motion to make Juneteeth 2021a paid holiday for state employees. Kemp stated his decision was based on a current state law limiting the number of paid holidays state employees can take in a single year. In an email to the Associate Press, Kemp shared that, in the next coming week he will announce paid holiday for the calendar year.

“We are under the understanding that we are free, but we are not quite free. We are freeish,” Ward said.