KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The message behind the observance of Juneteenth took on a new prominence and renewed meaning this year.
Friday marked the anniversary of the freeing of the final slaves from the Civil War era, some of whom didn’t learn of the Emancipation Proclamation until two years after the fact. History shows those enslaved people were freed in 1865.
Kansas Citians observing the holiday on Friday said recent headlines have brought the past back to life.
“We pray, God, that you’ll send justice over Kansas City,” one participant prayed at the Juneteenth Drive for Justice event.
Theirs was a movement with a message.
At the Juneteenth Drive for Justice event, many members of Kansas City’s African-American community drove across state lines, carrying the same commitment that was simultaneously being spread in 32 U.S. cities.
Demonstrators passed 10 governmental buildings in the metro, both in Missouri and Kansas, where they shouted and honked their demands for equality and justice.
Friday’s drive finished at the 24 Hour Faith Training Center, where Pastor Tim Hayes and others made the metro aware of Juneteenth’s significance.
“It’s not really taught in schools. It’s up to us to teach our history,” Hayes said. “We’re using this day to educate and bring awareness to all the killings to police that are murdering and legislation that needs to be changed.”
Hayes is one of many who suggest Juneteenth should be recognized as a national holiday. Corporate leaders at Nike and Google are already encouraging their employees to participate in observing the occasion’s special background.
“The only way you can see us ride like this is in a funeral procession because we’re burying somebody,” said Desmound Logan, who took part in the demonstration. “You don’t have to ride like that because something bad happened. You can ride because there’s a positive message.”
Hayes said recent headlines involving the killing of African-American people by police officers has revived the vigor of the Civil Rights Movement.
He pointed to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as being two of many injustices that prove African-American people are still fighting for their equality.
“We can come together and support black businesses and support black people. We can celebrate that we are not free mentally, but we are free from the chains,” Hayes told FOX4.
Mark Dupree, Wyandotte County prosecutor, appeared at the drive’s starting point in Kansas City, Kansas.
Dupree said he believes the United States is in a state of emergency, given the trend of policy brutality and the public protests that arose from each case.
“Justice is so important. Not just for some people, but for all people,” Dupree said. “In order to make sure everyone in this country can fully understand and fully benefit from the equalities and fairness of our justice system, that emergency won’t change.”
Floyd and Dupree emphasized individual responsibility, too — for people of all races to speak up against injustices, to complete U.S. Census forms and for every person to exercise their right to vote for people who represent their best interests.