Stone Mountain, GA — The city of Stone Mountain hosted its first official Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 19, after the City Council approved Juneteenth as a commemorative holiday last year. The June 19 event featured fireworks, dancers, local vendors and speeches from local officials.
City Councilmember Jasmine Little sponsored the resolution of the holiday.
“We’re looking at the new vibe of what we’re doing and what we’re bringing to the world and not being what we’ve always seemed like in the past,” she said at a council work session on Tuesday, March 16.
Little began her opening remarks by reading the poem “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou. After finishing the poem, she mentioned that a clipped bird can no longer fly.
“If you don’t understand what it means to be a clipped bird then you will never understand why we celebrate Juneteenth,” Little said.
“I wanted to let you know what it means to me to be raised as a Black woman in America,” she added. “What it means to raise a baby and then get to see y’all, everybody, no matter what you look like, y’all celebrating freedom.”
Despite the rain throughout the event, attendees and speakers were excited to celebrate Juneteenth. The holiday that marks the day, June 19, 1865, when Union troops made their way to Galveston, Texas, and read general order number three announcing that all enslaved African Americans in the state were legally free.
“The might of the Union Army had to roll into Galveston, Texas, to get us out of bondage when we should have been out of bondage two and half years prior,” Mayor Pro Tem Chakira Johnson said. “We acknowledge that as great as that is, and we do have a federal holiday, that that is the one step in the fight for equality for all of us in this great nation of ours. We celebrate today and continue to fight tomorrow.”
Residents and members of the event planning committee in attendance were happy with the event and agreed that it’s about time Stone Mountain celebrate Juneteenth.
Resident Demarcus Snow said that he has lived in the community his whole life and said that celebrating Juneteenth is a way for the city to show that they understand.
“It’s time to hold this event here,” said Kim Cumbie, tourism manager for the city. “It’s been an emotional reaction. Getting to this day has been lots of small decisions, lots of small steps, lots of little bitty pieces and just like building a house, one brick at a time. That’s how it’s ended up. It’s been a wonderful day here.”
She hopes this becomes an annual event in the city.
Resident Elaine Vaughn, who was also on the planning committee, was excited to be out celebrating the holiday.
“I hope they take away that this Juneteenth event is a celebration of freedom and this city is not what it once was,” Vaughn said. “They have a picture in the depot, I think it was 1900, the city and you look at that photo and look at the city now. Sure a lot of businesses are not open but look how far we’ve come.”
The celebration in Stone Mountain, and others across DeKalb County, took place a few days after President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday, June 17, a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. The law went into effect immediately, making Friday, June 18, the first federal Juneteenth holiday to be observed by federal employees, according to NBC News.
“As we also are gathered here today [on June 19], I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that not only is this Juneteenth historic for the city of Stone Mountain, it is historic for our nation as just a few days ago President Biden signed in Juneteenth as a federal holiday,” Johnson said.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell, who represents Stone Mountain, said that when he was elected Georgia was one of a few states that didn’t recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.
“I’m glad to say to you today that I sponsored that legislation and today [on June 19] Georgia’s one of 49 states that recognizes Juneteenth. I did it because it is an opportunity for we as a people, all people, to recognize and to fulfill the goal of our U.S. Constitution to make this a more perfect nation,” Mitchell said.
During the event, Johnson took a moment to honor the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis and everything he stood for.
“He may not have been our specific congressman in this district but we all recognize everything that he did for every American no matter their race, creed, sexual identity. He was a congressman for everybody in America,” Johnson said.
Johnson also acknowledged during her speech that it was an emotional day and she had stopped signing along with the Voices of Shermantown Choir as she was crying.
The planning of the event didn’t go without controversy as the City Council determined who would be vendors at the event. On June 15, the City Council voted 4-3 against a resolution that would’ve reinstated the Stone Mountain Action Coalition as a vendor. The group’s application was rejected for the Juneteenth event and the committee cited a rule against “political” vendors, Tucker Observer previously reported.
“I was emotional at this crowd and this day has meant so much to me,” Johnson said. “We have worked hard. We’ve had controversy but it has all been worth it. No matter what, we got this done, first Juneteenth for the city of Stone Mountain.”
Mayor Patricia Wheeler cast the tie-breaking vote against the resolution to reinstate the Stone Mountain Action Coalition as a vendor. Councilmember Clint Monroe submitted the resolution.
Monroe attended the event and said there was a good turnout. He continued to criticize the decision regarding SMAC’s vendor application. Monroe said SMAC wanted to hand out literature about Stone Mountain Park.
“They just wanted a party without politics they claim but Billy Mitchell was up there politicking and he’s running for office,” Monroe said. “But they excluded other politicians who are running for office, especially against the mayor. They wouldn’t let him appear.”
“That was unfair and they had a chance to correct it [at the] Tuesday city council [meeting] and I still felt strongly against what they were doing and it’s just plain wrong. They think Juneteenth is nothing but a party,” Monroe added. “I don’t think that’s the way to go.”
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