Freedom still rings!

Published 4:34 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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MURFREESBORO – For the third year in a row, Juneteenth was celebrated in Murfreesboro with their annual Freedom Day Festival. The event was held at Riverside Park on Saturday, June 17, bringing together the community for an afternoon of fun and fellowship along with a remembrance of the past.

Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, but it was not until more than two years later that those orders were officially carried out. Union Army troops in Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865 stepped in to make sure everyone knew that those in bondage were now free.

Now that anniversary is celebrated each year across the country as a federal holiday.

At Murfreesboro’s event, the organizers made sure to recognize the local impact of that freedom as well. A short history program was held during Saturday’s festival as the event kicked off.

Mayor Pro Tem Berna Stephens gave the opening prayer and then Brandon Vaughan, co-chair for the event, led the crowd in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Jackie Ruffin Pittman served as the keynote speaker to share details about local liberation during the Civil War.

Jackie Ruffin Pittman served as the keynote speaker at the Juneteenth celebration. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

Citing a history book by Dr. Thomas C. Parramore, Pittman explained that 1,700 Union Army soldiers came to Murfreesboro on July 28, 1863.

“They saw plantation owners prospering off of people held against their will and working for free,” Pittman said.

She explained that the enslaved people were able to leave with the protection of the Union Army, gaining their freedom. Some then helped out as cooks and washers, while others chose to serve as soldiers too.

In her remarks, Pittman also reflected on freedom then and now. She noted that even though African Americans were granted freedom after the Civil War, the remnants of shackles remained, such as a lack of voting rights for many more years afterwards.

“Though I’m free, I still have to confront the injustices that connect our history. What happened to my great-grandma still lingers,” she emphasized. “But God will make a way like he did for grandma, grandmama’s mother, and her mother.”

She urged people to understand the price of freedom and never forget what their ancestors paid for it.

Following her speech, Pittman also performed a libation ceremony as a tribute to the US Colored Troops 36th Infantry who fought as a part of the Union Army. Those soldiers included men from Murfreesboro and Hertford County.

She read each man’s name and poured out water over a plant as a part of the ceremony to honor them.

A moment of silence was held afterwards, followed by “Taps” performed by Henry Britt (also known as “Mr. Tune.”)

Kendra Zollicoffer, a senior at Virginia State University, read a poem she wrote, entitled “Freedom.” The words of the poem emphasized speaking up and not remaining silent, and shared an encouraging message with the audience.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, attendees visited with their friends, family, and neighbors while also enjoying musical entertainment. Featured musicians included Mr. Tune, The Multiple Intelligence Band, and The Cultured Jazz Band.

DJ Ronnie P served as the MC for the event.

Food, craft, and educational vendors also had tents set up around the park.

The event was organized and sponsored by the Hertford County African American History Coalition, with Vaughan and James ‘BJ’ Futrell serving as the co-chairs.

“Our mission is to document, preserve, and celebrate the contributions of African Americans in Hertford County and northeastern North Carolina,” Vaughan said.

The group meets on the first Saturday of each month. There is no cost to join, and meetings are open to the public.