Across Proviso, Residents Celebrate Juneteenth, Acknowledge Present Struggles

Saturday, June 19, 2021 || By Igor Studenkov || @maywoodnews 

On Saturday, community members across Proviso Township celebrated Juneteenth. The commemoration, which is now a state and federal holiday, observes June 19, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 notifying the public that the enslaved people of Texas were free. 

The order came two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation and a few months after the Civil War had officially ended, but Texas had still been under the military control of the Confederacy. 

In Maywood, residents tempered their celebration with an awareness that the vestiges of slavery, white supremacy and institutional racism remain embedded in American society. 

George Stone III read aloud General Order No. 3 after an African drum call. Stone is the president and CEO of Operation Uplift Inc., the Maywood nonprofit that operates the West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 S. 5th Ave.

The nonprofit hosted a Juneteenth pop-up sale and celebration outside of the museum building that featured, along with the African drumming, comments by Pastor Wheeler Parker Jr., the cousin of Emmett Till who was with Till on the night the teenager was abducted in Mississippi in 1955. 

“Today, as we celebrate, rightly, our nation’s acknowledgement of this National Day of Freedom becoming a federal holiday and as we honor the resilience and perseverance of our freed ancestors … we must never forget that their [dream of freedom] was not fulfilled,” said Stone, the president and CEO of Operation Uplift Inc.

An African drum call performed during Operation Uplift’s annual Juneteenth commemoration in Maywood on Saturday. | Screenshot 

Stone said that after his enslaved ancestors were freed, their dream of liberation “became a general nightmare” of Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, redlining, “psychological slavery, self-hate, Black-on-Black crime,” subpar loans, redlining and the “killing of unarmed Black men by the police. 

Stone also confronted the backlash among white lawmakers, many of them Republican, that has come amid the Juneteenth festivities, particularly in the form of legislation designed to blunt the notion that slavery and racism are central aspects of the country’s history. 

“As we celebrate, our work continues,” Stone said. “We can’t allow our  history to be rewritten in order to make it more palatable for the dominant society. We must tell our youth the truth.” 

Wheeler acknowledged that even he had not learned about the significance of Juneteenth, a holiday that originated in Texas, until he was older. 

“Many of you all like me just learned about Juneteenth in the later years,” he said. “Uninformed people are not happy people … We have been fed a whole lot of erroneous stuff. If you know more about yourself you’ll feel better about yourself.” 

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In Broadview, hundreds of residents gathered at Schroeder Park, 2600 S. 13th Ave., for what was billed as a Celebrate Freedom Festival. During the festival, dozens of Black-owned businesses sold their products — from colorful handbags, balloons and artwork to sweet treats.

The two-day celebration, which started on Friday with a Fish Fry at Schroeder Park, marked the first time that Juneteenth was commemorated in Broadview since the village became the first, and so far, the only municipality in Proviso Township to make Juneteenth an official local holiday. 

In Hillside, community members gathered at Jordan Temple Church, 4421 Roosevelt Rd., for an event that allowed residents ages 12 and up to get the Pfizer vaccine. 

The event was organized by Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and several area churches — including Freedom Baptist Church in Hillside, Victory Temple Church of God in Christ in Broadview, Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood and United Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Maywood. 

The event was not an explicit Juneteenth commemoration, but the race-based disparities that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic are vestiges of the institution that the Civil War was fought to end. 

Daphne Walker, a deacon at Freedom Baptist Church in Hillside, gets her Pfizer vaccine on Saturday. | Igor Studenkov 

Myron Branch, a deacon at Freedom Baptist, said the pandemic disparities were a result of the disparity in resources between Black and white communities. 

“We have clinics, but we don’t have major hospitals,” Branch said. 

Daphne Walker, a deacon at Freedom Baptist who handled outreach for Saturday’s event, said that, while the event falling on Juneteenth was just a coincidence, she was glad it worked out that way.

“It was the day that we were set free, so it’s great to see people come out and get vaccinated on Juneteenth,” she said. “I know there are a lot of Juneteenth events going on, so we were glad our event was one of them.”

Rev. Kevin McGee, who pastors Victory Temple, said he hopes Saturday’s vaccine drive helps increase both the number of people vaccinated and awareness about the vaccine’s benefits. 

“Today’s event is important, because we need to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “A lot of work has been done to come up with a vaccine to provide us with a viable way for the society to return to some semblance of normalcy and the more people get vaccinated, the more we decrease the risk of virus spreading.”

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