By Mark Woolsey
The day’s theme was unity but some friendly competition was also mixed in.
Inside the gym at Kennesaw First Baptist Church, two teams prepared for a vigorous tug of war. Instead of pitting police on one side squaring off with members of the public on the other, the groups were deliberately intermingled.
“That way,” said one participant, “no matter who crosses the line first, everybody wins.”
It was a seemingly appropriate sentiment for the Kennesaw Police Department’s first “One Community, a Celebration of Unity” day commemorating Juneteenth.
The holiday originated when a Union general arriving in Galveston, Texas read orders on June 19, 1865 informing the enslaved people of Texas that they were free.
Hence, the day has also been labeled Freedom or Emancipation Day.
The rain may have chased some away, but volunteers and participants who did show up sampled games, booths and entertainment. Speakers explained the significance of the observance as well.
What the rainy weather DIDN’T do was quash participants’ enthusiasm about the day’s being designated a federal observance with a presidential signature this past week.
District Attorney Flynn Broady was part of the team that “dominated” the tug of war. He reflected on the milestone.
“I really do hope this will lead into it being named a state holiday as well. I think there will be a delay but eventually it will happen. I think there will be some pushback but that’s just the nature of our country.”
In a similar vein, Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1983, but it was another 17 years before all 50 individual states granted it recognition.
Georgia law caps the number of state holidays at the current 12, but two are un-named holidays which Governor Brian Kemp could conceivably designate for a Juneteenth commemoration as soon as next year.
Police chief Bill Westenberger said the idea for the event came from a police advisory board set up last year after the killing of black resident George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
He sounded a hopeful note.
“Everything starts in the community,” he said. “As information gets out and more people learn about what the day represents, I think it gives us the opportunity to create some unity.”
Kennesaw community activist Jacqyln Charles, who counts Westenberger as a mentor, put it simply.
“It’s about time this became a federal holiday,’” she said.
On the potential for a more localized official observance, “we have the Martin Luther King Junior holiday, we have all the other holidays, so why not this? Juneteenth is really about freedom.”
“I think with anything new there’s always going to be pushback. But I think because of Black Lives Matter and things like that there’s going to be more people for it than the few pushing back against it.”
Kennesaw has been broad-brushed as a community with racist leanings. Asked about that, attendee Willie Singleton didn’t address it directly but indicated the day was a successful collaboration.
“I think it will dispel any information that comes with it,” he said. “we just need to keep moving forward.”