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Lawton community celebrates Juneteenth

Fifteen-year-old Shanteara Robinson believes Juneteenth remains an important celebration within the Lawton Fort Sill community because "today's people and youth get to know their heritage," she said.

Robinson, a Lawton High School student, was one of countless families and friends who bowed their heads in prayer, clapped their hands in praise and raised their voices in honor of Juneteenth, hosted by the City of Lawton and local organizations, on Saturday afternoon.

Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Texas to announce that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed the slaves on Jan. 1, 1863  two-and-a-half years prior to Granger's announcement, which finally enforced the proclamation in the south.

To commemorate Juneteenth, Lawtonians gathered in the auditorium of Douglass Professional Development Center to listen to featured speakers and a performance directed by Mattie Butler, before swiping on sunscreen and heading to Douglass Park, where they ate free barbeque and watched children ride ponies, zoom down a zip line and compete on inflatable obstacle courses.

During the opening ceremony in the auditorium, Councilman Dwight Tanner welcomed City of Lawton dignitaries, including Mayor Fred Fitch, and reminded the audience members that Juneteenth remains distinct from other national civil rights' celebrations; he asserted that the "black struggle" is unique and not comparable with other struggles.

"The black struggle is a struggle that dealt with slavery, the ownership of individuals," Tanner said. " ... This is a black struggle. We're still pressing through." 

Fitch took center stage next and recited the City of Lawton Juneteenth Proclamation, which says, "Whereas approximately eleven-and-a-half million African Americans survived the voyage to the New World, the number that died is likely greater, only to be forced to submit to slavery for more than two hundred years after their arrival here in the United States. ... Therefore, I, Fred Fitch, Mayor of the City of Lawton, hereby recognize June 17, 2017, as Juneteenth 2017."

During the outdoor portion of Juneteenth, Alicia Jenkins, who hosted the One Church, One Child of Oklahoma, echoed Tanner's earlier thoughts.

"I was born in the '50s, so the struggle is real, and it's always going to be real," Jenkins said. "I've experienced a great deal throughout my life, and although they say we're free, no one is ever really free. We have to keep on helping one another."

One way Jenkins fulfills the call to help others is by working with One Church, One Child of Oklahoma, an adoption and foster care agency, which, she said, helps children in the state's welfare system who may have been "abandoned, abused (or) neglected."

"We have one-third more African American children in the system," she said, "so we're out here (at Juneteenth) for awareness and to make sure we're finding families for our children."

Barbara Ellis, publicity chairperson for Juneteenth in Lawton, said at least 20 organizations, including the Arts & Humanities Division of Lawton and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, volunteered at the event.

Another organization was the fraternity Omega Psi Phi, whose members, sporting purple and yellow T-shirts, entertained Lawtonians with live music, featuring rap, R&B and pop, from a tent outside.

Ellis believes the Juneteenth celebration is invaluable to the Lawton Fort Sill community  and the nation at large  because it brings together a diversity of African American people.

The Lawton Constitution

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