The 8th Annual St. Mary’s County Juneteenth Celebration this year reflected continued growth in the event that marks the announcement in 1865 of the emancipation of black Americans. Vendors, both food and craft, filled Freedom Park in Lexington Park and music filled the air throughout the day.
In opening ceremonies, Pioneer in History awards were given posthumously to Viola Gardner and Mother Mary Lange of the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
Gardiner died last year after a history of servicer to the St. Mary’s County community. She broke many barriers over time. Gardner earned a prominent place in civil rights history by being the typist for the briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
Mother Mary Lange (Elizabeth Clarisse Lange), 1784-1882, founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a religious congregation for the Christian (Catholic) education of black children. She founded a private school in the early 1800s, an academy in 1828 and a religious foundation in 1829
During the .pastorate of Father John LaFarge, S.J., the Oblate Sisters of Providence were invited to St. Peter Claver Mission in St. Mary’s County. On November 5, 1924, three of the sisters were the first appointed to the work of religious and academic education at St. Peter Claver grade school. A day later the school was founded.
The Citizen of the Year Award was presented at the opening ceremony to the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church Museum Committee, founded in 2007 to oversee the transformation of the old St. Peter Claver Elementary School into a museum.
Music was provided throughout the day by First Missionary Baptist Church Youth Choir, the Southern Maryland Community Choir, saxophonist James Brown, Soul in Action, Rev. James Flowers and Family, and recording artist Jaared.
The Juneteenth celebration is put on every year by the United Committee for Afro-American Contributions, which is hard at work raising money for a monument to the two St. Mary’s County members of the United States Colored Troops, William Barnes and James Harris, who received a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Juneteenth Chairman is Michael brown, who is vice president of United Communities for Afro-American Contributions. Nathaniel Scroggins is the current present of the organization that was founded by Elmer Brown.