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Juneteenth: Joyous Event With a Serious History

Now in its ninth year, the St. Mary’s County Juneteenth Celebration seems to grow every year. This year’s event at Freedom Plaza in Lexington Park was no exception. A special committee of the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions organizes the event. Founder Elmer Brown passed the baton of leadership to his son Michael, who has chaired the committee for the last seven years.

Juneteenth features entertainment, plenty of food and a number of vendors. The opening ceremony also included the awarding of a Pioneers in History to Deacons James and John Somerville and the Citizen of the Year Award to Steve and Dr. Francine Hawkins.

Deacons James, 83, and John, 81, along with their brother, the late Joseph, were the first African American brothers from St. Mary’s County to have been ordained deacons in the Catholic Church.  According to the Juneteenth program, “Deacons are ordained ministers of the Roman Catholic Church and must go through a rigorous eligibility process before they are allowed to serve. They perform various services at the parish level and are regarded as servants of the Pope, as opposed to priests, who are assistants to the Pope.”

Also according to the program, “If I can help somebody, as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain” has always been the mission of the Hawkins Family. The county natives have “a longstanding tradition of service to humanity and have passionately carried it forward with their child, Stevie-Mari, their seven foster children, their numerous Godchildren, their Ladies and Gentlemen of the Village, their church family, their civic organizations and their business.”

Ret. Army Col. Greg Riley gave welcoming remarks that included a history of Juneteenth. It originated as a celebration of the ending of slavery. On June 19, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger and 1,800 Union Army troops arrived in Galveston, TX and announced the end of the Civil War. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves had been issued two years earlier by President Lincoln, the decree had not taken effect in Texas. The celebration has spread to where it is now held all across the country.

During the opening ceremony Reverend Henry Briscoe took a dig at the county commissioners for pulling some of the funding request for Juneteenth. During a budget discussion in March, Commissioner Cynthia Jones (R: 2nd) noted budgets were tight and destined to get even tighter. “We need to focus on core services,” she insisted. At one point during a discussion of providing funding to the UCAC for the Juneteenth celebration, Commissioner Todd Morgan (R: 4th) noted the event was bringing in a number of tourists who were spending money at local hotels and it would be a good investment, Jones responded, “The taxpayers are not seeing any benefit from this investment.”

Rev. Briscoe asked those in attenda

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