North Port St. Joe and the greater community came together to celebrate freedom this past weekend.



North Port St. Joe and the greater community came together to celebrate freedom this past weekend.

The celebration, in honor of Juneteenth, was organized by the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition (NPSJPAC) and was held in the Washington Gym.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery.

Even though the Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863, word and the military manpower to enforce the executive action did not reach Texas until June 19, 1865, a full two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

On that June day, Maj. General Gordon Granger disembarked his ship at Galveston, Texas and informed the public the war had been won by the Union.

One of Granger’s first actions was the reading of General Order Number Three,

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

The date would go on to become an official Texas state holiday in 1980 and today is recognized as a holiday or a day of observance by almost all states in the country.

This year’s Port St. Joe celebration is the third which the NPSJPAC has organized.

Guests were treated to a meal on both days of the celebration, as well as speeches by guests and an assortment of musical talent.

On Saturday local organizations were on hand to explain their services to the public, as well as to perform basic medical checks.

Thomas Curtis kicked off the celebration on Friday with a prayer and explained the origins of the event, stating that the newly freed slaves were full of hope and promise on that June day in 1865.

“That message resonates today because the organization that is sponsoring this is an organization that is looking to self-empower,” Curtis said.

The keynote speaker Friday evening Rufus L. Wood, Sr., founding pastor of the Love Center Missionary Baptist Church in Panama City, spoke on teamwork.

“The Lord wanted me to come from Panama City to Port St. Joe to say to the coalition and say to the community, you are a team,” Wood said. “You’ve got to help each other and you have to work together. Teamwork that’s what counts.”

On Saturday afternoon, Gregory L. James was the keynote speaker and spoke excitedly on self-reliance and the promise of tomorrow.

“Today I came to really say to those of you that are here, those of you that are a part of this movement, that are a part of this coalition, I want to challenge you voice,” James said. “I want to challenge you to gain the strength that you need to continue to build, re-build, and redeem the sacred grounds of our community.”

James, the founder and senior minister of Reclaiming the Land, Inc., was at one time incarcerated for life plus 40 years for selling narcotics.

James said that he realized that he had been a problem to his community and that he decided to become part of the solution through hard work and self-reliance.

Following more performances, guests were offered a tour of the Washington High School museum to close out the day.