There’s no shortage of fun to be had at LFM Park on any given weekend, but June marks a special time for the African American community and people from all walks of life, with events centered on the park.
On June 19, 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the victorious Union Army enforced the Emancipation Proclamation on the last city in the South to permit slavery; the proclamation declared all slaves in the Confederate states to be “thenceforward and forever free.”
Since that time, celebrations have been held on or about June 19 (Juneteenth) of every year in observance of African American Freedom Day. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions come together in unity to celebrate, educate, reflect and rejoice.
“All praises to God, we had two beautiful days involving African-American history, lots of fun, wonderful entertainment and great fellowship,” said Nicole Thomas, who is preparing to step down after 14 years as Atchison Juneteenth Committee chairwoman. “Our committee would like to thank the Atchison community and everyone else who helped in some type of way to help us have another Juneteenth celebration.”
Atchison began its 14th annual celebration of Juneteenth on Saturday, with events continuing through Sunday evening, including multiple concerts, ample servings of free food and drink prepared by local barbecue crews, a religious gathering on Sunday morning, a talent show and much more.
Atchison Mayor Shawn Rizza presented a proclamation dedicating the entire month of June to the observance of Juneteenth, remarking on how most members of the local African American community are descended from millions brought in bondage across the Middle Passage of the Atlantic Ocean, a journey which killed approximately half of them. Their sacrifices and those who fought to obtain their freedom in subsequent generations must never be forgotten, Rizza said.
Presenting a speech on “What is Juneteenth?” local spoken word artist Stan Parker II observed that people of all colors and creeds are called to continue working together to heal racial divides and bring about the kind of justice and societal strength that our ancestors would want us to have.
“It’s not just for the black community,” he said. “These things that I’m talking about impact everybody. So when you’re talking about the land of the free, just ask people the question, ‘Do you really feel free?’ Are we really free? Did we attain what our ancestors wanted us to when they received the Emancipation Proclamation?”
Atchison is also celebrating the 25th birthday of the Top Dawgs Drill Team, an after-school marching band and performance troupe for kids from all walks of life in the community directed by local African American leaders. One of the leading donors over the years to the Juneteenth committee and the Top Dawgs, philanthropist Cloud L. “Bud” Cray Jr., died in February.
“To me, and what dad contributed for before he passed away, is this is about the community,” said Cray’s daughter, Karen Seaberg. “It’s about healing our divisions and respecting each other.”