Community Outreach of The Des Moines Urban Experience HISTORY Juneteenth in The United States President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, proclaiming that slaves in all states at war with the Union were free. General Robert E. Lee (Confederate Army) surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant (Union Army) at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. The Civil War was officially declared ended during the following month of May. Although the Civil War was over, there were pockets of slavery that remained in existence and on June 19, 1865, the last bastion of slavery was ended in Galveston, Texas, when Union Army General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the population of Galveston essentially declaring an end to the master and slave relationship and that all future work shall be done as a contractor and laborer relationship. The former slaves celebrated their freedom on that day (June 19, 1865) 149 years ago, which was the first celebration of "Juneteenth" (a combination of the words June + nineteenth). Juneteenth has become the largest celebration of its type in the United States with 43 states (and the District of Columbia) passing either laws or resolutions recognizing the importance of Juneteenth history.
Juneteenth in Iowa Gary Lawson, Founder and the first General Chairman of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance, pursued legal recognition for Juneteenth as an important day in the history of Iowa. Lawson spoke with key legislators during the 2001 session of the Iowa General Assembly, but Juneteenth legislation did not successfully emerge that year. Lawson returned during the 2002 legislative session to advocate for a Juneteenth bill, which was passed in a bipartisan fashion, and signed into law by Governor Tom Vilsak during a special ceremony on April 11, 2002. Special acknowledgment is given for the help of legislators during 2001-2002, such as Senator Mary Kramer (R) - President of the Senate and Senator Jack Holveck (D). The law reads as follows: Juneteenth the Holiday "The governor of this state is hereby authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation designating the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth National Freedom Day and to encourage all governmental entities, civic organizations, schools, and institutions of higher education in the state to observe the day in a manner that emphasizes the meaning and importance of the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery in the United States and to recognize and celebrate the importance of this day to every person who cherishes liberty and equality for all people."
Above is a picture of Governor Tom Vilsack signing the Juneteenth holiday legislation into law and handing the commemorative pen to Gary Lawson. This historic event took place in a special ceremony at the State Capitol on April 11, 2002. In the picture, from far left to right, are Gerald Hill, Minnie Mallard, Cheryl Bolden, Edward and Barbara Robinson (Iowa Juneteenth Observance King & Queen), Governor Tom Vilsack, Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, and Gary Lawson. Juneteenth "Song Of Freedom" The Juneteenth "Song of Freedom" was written and arranged by Chauncey E. Mallett, Sr. (deceased), Vice Chairman Emeritus of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance. Mallett 's professional background included being a talented musician and singer who had toured nationally. Among his other contributions, he exercised his talents to pursue professional and amateur entertainment for the Iowa Juneteenth Observance activities. A major contribution of his talent is embodied in the "Song of Freedom" as he put his interpretation of Juneteenth and the Iowa Juneteenth Observance to music and donated the rights of this song for the benefit of educating Iowans about Juneteenth. In addition to providing the "Song of Freedom" to various Juneteenth organizations across the state, the "Song of Freedom" has also been provided to the African-American Museum of Iowa (Cedar Rapids) and the museum at the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (Des Moines) Iowa Council of Juneteenth Organizations The Iowa Council of Juneteenth Organizations (ICJO) is an informal network of Juneteenth events provided on a city, region, or statewide basis. The ICJO was formed during the summer of 2013 in a meeting held in Des Moines and hosted by the Iowa Juneteenth Observance. The mission of the ICJO is to: 1) share ideas and best practices for strengthening and expanding Juneteenth events across Iowa; and 2) educate Iowans about Juneteenth history and assist in preserving Juneteenth history for future generations. Current members of the ICJO represent Juneteenth events based in Burlington, Clinton, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City, Sioux City, and Waterloo. The contacts and co-facilitators for the ICJO are Gary Lawson (Des Moines) and Shirleen Martin (Davenport). Below are ICJO representatives that participated in a picture at the initial meeting in August of 2013.
Seated from left to right: Celeste Lawson, Gary Lawson, and Chris Johnson - Des Moines. Standing: Michael Kates - Cedar Rapids; Shirleen Martin and Dr. Ida Johnson - Davenport; Melvina Scott and Sharon Goodson - Waterloo. Iowa Juneteenth Observance The Iowa Juneteenth Observance was founded in Des Moines by Gary Lawson during 1990. The Iowa Juneteenth Observance was structured as an informal activity staffed solely by non-salaried individuals dedicated to "grassroots" community voluntarism. The first event consisted of a single-day of activities and was attended by approximately 50 people. The event continued to grow and was organized as an official program of the Connect Foundation during 1993. While the Iowa Juneteenth Observance continued to grow at the Good Park location into the mid-1990's, representatives of the Mid-City Vision community organization requested the Iowa Juneteenth Observance to consider relocating activities to the then newly established and expansive Evelyn K. Davis Park in Des Monies. Evelyn K. Davis Park consists of 10 acres in the inner-city (50314 zip code). The Iowa Juneteenth Observance relocated the main event, Neighbors Day, to Evelyn K. Davis Park and we have continued there for two decades providing activities to attendees numbering in the thousands. Although Lawson stepped down as the General Chairman in the Fall of 2012, with the honorary titles of General Chairman Emeritus and State Advocate, he remains an active volunteer with the Iowa Juneteenth Observance. Christopher "Chris" Johnson succeeded Gary Lawson as the Iowa Juneteenth Observance General Chairman. Chris first started volunteering with the Iowa Juneteenth Observance as a member of the Sound & Staging Committee; he later became the Chairman of the Sound and Staging Committee; he was then appointed to an advanced position as the Iowa Juneteenth Observance Vice Chairman of Logistics; and was later appointed to the position of Senior Vice Chairman of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance. Chris, who is a proven leader of community volunteers, was hired into a new job outside of Iowa in April of 2015. For a quarter-century, the Iowa Juneteenth Observance has been a "grassroots" volunteer-driven venue for providing families and individuals with pathways to history, culture, and growth. We look forward to continuing that tradition of service as we do our part to help build better communities in our state.
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