913 steps for a great cause

Published 7:04 am Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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What a wonderful Juneteenth weekend and Monday for celebrating the freedom that embodies Juneteenth.

I want to thank the City of Washington and all those who made the Juneteenth 2023 celebration a glorious one.  It is amazing what we all can do when we support, encourage and work together to bring into fruition the festivals, events and special times everyone can enjoy.  The work that went into planning special events throughout the city made for unforgettable times for children and adults alike.  There was so much to learn, enjoy and participate in. I especially loved hearing from visitors to Washington talk about how much they enjoyed our Juneteenth events.

I want to share some of my most memorable things about the Juneteenth weekend.

I loved the parade, but it was the Youth Drum Team from Blount’s Creek that won my heart as did the youth groups walking and dancing in the parade.  The sounds of the children’s delight while playing on the amusement rides and playing games in P S Jones and Beebe Parks with each other and the adults was heartwarming and wonderful.

My second most memorable event was the dedication of the ‘Fourth Street Black History Legacy Park.’  It was absolutely beautiful. There were so many community leaders and volunteers who love Washington and came together to join in planning how we could make Washington even more special by working together to keep our streets and vacant lots attractive.  What is special about the Legacy Park is it will showcase some of Washington’s most vibrant and vital history on signage around the park.

The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum also kicked off Juneteenth Saturday morning by hosting a Black History Walking Tour from the Museum to the dedication of the Fourth Street (now known as Dr. MLK Jr. Drive) Black History Legacy Park. The walk was perfectly planned to take 913 steps or about 0.43 mile. Each step was calculated to correspond to the 913 days from the two and a half years it took for the news of freedom to reach enslaved people in Galveston Texas, on June 19th, 1865, fulfilling the Emancipation Proclamation decree that President Abraham Lincoln promised on January 1, 1863.

If you missed this walking history tour, we’ll be hosting it throughout summer.

My favorite and most memorable event was participating in a special Juneteenth program hosted by the Nash Correctional Institution Facility in Nash County NC. The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum has a ‘travelling museum’ in that we can get on the road and share the history and stories of the Underground Railroad and Juneteenth anywhere in the state.  Since there are groups of people who for various reasons (being in nursing homes, youth facilities or prisons etc.) who could not come to Washington (or anywhere else) to share in the Juneteenth experience and activities, the volunteers at the museum brought Juneteenth to them.

I have been singing ‘Funga Alafia, Ashay, Ashay all weekend.  Translation: Alafia means “good health” or “peace to you” in Yoruba (a West African language). Ashay is similar to the Yoruban word Oh-shay, which means “thank you.” Thanks to all for a wonderful Juneteenth.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.