State and local leaders on Monday celebrated the 152nd anniversary of Juneteenth with calls for unity, hope and remembrance.

People from around the county attended the annual celebration and prayer breakfast at Ashton Villa, commemorating the day in 1865 that Union soldiers came to Galveston and told Texans that all slaves were free.

Juneteenth, which came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, is often regarded as the official end of slavery in the United States. At Monday’s event, the Right Rev. Dr. Stephen Duncan stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa and acted as Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who is said to have read the statement in 1865.

“Freedom has a long road that ends here in Galveston, Texas and continues on from here across the country,” Duncan said at the celebration. “It’s a road that took a lot longer than you might have thought.”

Former State Rep. Al Edwards of Houston authored the 1979 bill that declared Juneteenth an official state holiday. More than 150 years after the original event, Juneteenth still serves as a reminder that it is possible to persevere through struggle, Edwards said.

“That’s what Juneteenth is all about,” Edwards said. “Don’t give up, because there is a bright side somewhere.”

Stories tell that Granger read the proclamation, General Order No. 3, from a balcony at Ashton Villa. Historians have said that the public reading of the order, if it took place at all, probably occurred on 22nd Street and The Strand. A historic marker recognizing Juneteenth is at that place.

Community celebrations are vital ways of uniting the divided, said Dan Buckley, Galveston County field representative for U.S. Rep. Randy Weber.

“It means so much to stand here on this ground, where according to many people’s lore here, Gen. Granger spoke General Order Number 3 and announced the freedom here in Texas,” Buckley said. “We need more of these events to bring the community together, especially in the time that we’re having here today and recently with everything going on across this country.”

Juneteenth is much more than a day marking freedom from slavery, said former La Marque Mayor Geraldine Sam, who was the first black female mayor in Galveston County.

“It not only represents freedom, but it represents all of the things that we as a people have gone through,” Sam said. “It represents not only our freedom from being enslaved, but freedom of mind, that we can have equal access to education and opportunities that were never afforded to us before.”

Many young people attended the event, which was sponsored by the University of Texas Medical Branch, Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation, Sullivan Land Services, Old Central Cultural Center and DSW Homes.

Teanne Martin, 16, participated in the Juneteenth celebration with the The Nia Cultural Center’s Freedom School, a Children’s Defense Fund Program. Juneteenth inspires her to work toward unity, Martin said.

“It really gives me a lot of hope that I can do anything,” Martin said. “No matter what our skin color is, no matter what our mindset is, we can always come together in unity to help out our community, our country, our state, and do anything that we put our mind to.”

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter at @sam_kett


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