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'Stand for what is right and true': Citizens of Auburn and Opelika gather to observe Juneteenth
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'Stand for what is right and true': Citizens of Auburn and Opelika gather to observe Juneteenth

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Standing under the pavilion at Sam Harris Park, Connie Fitch Taylor applauded the crowd that came to Auburn’s Juneteenth celebration event despite Saturday’s rain.

“I just don’t know what to say; my heart is full today,” the Ward 1 Auburn City Councilperson said. “This has really been a great, great, great celebration and we need to celebrate each other not just today, we need to celebrate each other every day.”

The City of Auburn first recognized Juneteenth with a proclamation in 2020, and Mayor Ron Anders signed a proclamation Saturday recognizing it as Juneteenth. Anders says city legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday can be expected to be brought forth in the future.

“It’s a proud day,” he said. “I’m very proud to see this turnout today. ...It’s great to see people from different neighborhoods and different races and different interests that have come here to be a part of this recognition.”

Minister and Auburn native Terrance Vickerstaff provided a brief history on Juneteenth and noted that a number of societal problems still challenge Black Americans.

“…Today we celebrate Juneteenth. Celebrate. We have a celebration, but if us celebrating doesn’t help liberate somebody, then celebrating ain’t worth it. We’ve still got some fight we’ve got to do,” Vickerstaff said.

“...Strengthen Auburn, make Auburn what we know she is and make Auburn who we know she has been left in our care to be,” he said.

Local NAACP president Billy Allen said this year’s Juneteenth is historic because of the national legislation passed declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Sam Harris, the former Ward 1 Councilperson whom the park is named after, said he was pleased with the event’s turnout and thanked the Auburn community for attending the program, which consisted of several songs, speeches, and an excerpt from Sojourner Truth’s book “Ain’t I a Woman?”

“It means a lot for me to celebrate everyone that’s out here today,” said Jazia Thomas, 9. “We have to celebrate each other every day.”

On Friday night, Opelika’s Juneteenth event brought dozens of black-owned businesses to the city’s Courthouse Square as vendors sold fried catfish, dashikis, headwraps, lemonade and burgers while organizations set up tents to promote voting rights, LGBTQ pride and more.

City leaders, state lawmakers, local nonprofit workers and law enforcement officials addressed the crowd gathered there to recognize the importance of celebrating Juneteenth.

Mayor Gary Fuller thanked event organizer Janataka Holmes and Henrietta Snipes for working hard to make sure Juneteenth was recognized in the city of Opelika and explained the historical significance the holiday had.

“Back in 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were free, and they came two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Fuller said. “Juneteenth honors the end of slavery in the United States and is considered the longest running African-American holiday.”

Holmes, the organizer for this year’s Juneteenth, said the holiday was important both as a reminder for the historic event in which the last enslaved people were given news of their freedom as well as what it means for racial justice today.

“We can’t change what has happened in those years past, but we can remember them and honor them and we can do our best not to hold each other in captivity or bondage,” Holmes said. “Those before us paved the way, and we need to continue to make our voices heard and continue to stand for what is right and true.”

Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey spoke on the changes his department has made over the course of the last year in trying to be more involved with the public, and praised Opelika for its residents’ ability to come together.

“I remember being here a year ago with the things that were going on, and when we started talking at the Opelika Police Department about what we could do in Opelika to be different, we decided we needed everyone to come together,” Healey said. “That’s one of the special things about this city … how we come together and how we stand together through the good, the bad and the ugly.”

After the event’s speakers had finished, the community gathered behind a banner commemorating Juneteenth and marched through the city’s downtown in a long throng to showcase their unity in standing up against racial injustice and celebrating the freedom of formerly enslaved Americans.

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