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‘A beacon of hope’

Township raises Juneteenth flag on the holiday

Special to The Sun
Residents and community leaders observed the ceremony on June 19.

Moorestown held its second annual Juneteenth flag raising ceremony at the municipal complex parking lot on June 19.

The event featured guest speakers Tyrus Ballard, president of the Southern Burlington County NAACP; Dr. Herb Conaway, assemblyman; Quinton Law, deputy mayor; Lisette Gonzalez, Better Together Advisory Committee chair; and Kamili Leath, wife of Converge Church pastor Jonathan Leath.

Juneteenth celebrates the day – June 19, 1865 – nearly two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and told those enslaved there they were free, according to the website for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

More than 250,000 African Americans embraced freedom by executive decree in what became known as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day.

“We began celebrating Juneteenth in Moorestown for the first time in 2020,” said Mayor Nicole Gillespie. “ … In the midst of a global pandemic and a national reckoning around race, some folks in this town made the decision to start celebrating Juneteenth, to raise our awareness about this, to teach us about the history.

“I stand before you today on behalf of my council colleagues, to thank you all for coming and to say that it is important to us that we raise this flag, to let people know that we strive to be an inclusive town.”

The Juneteenth flag was originally created by Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, in 1997, according to the website for the Skokie public library in Illinois. It includes two symbols: One is a star that represents the state of Texas and its significance as the original location of Juneteenth. The second is a nova, also known as a burst or new star. On the flag, it is meant to represent a new beginning for American Blacks.

“Tonight, we gather here together, under the banner of freedom and justice, to commemorate a pivotal moment in American history and to celebrate the spirit of Juneteenth,” Leath noted. “ … To this day, Juneteenth marks not only a milestone in the struggle for civil rights, but also a testament to the enduring hope and resilience of people determined to claim their God-given rights of liberty and justice.”

“Juneteenth stands as a beacon of hope, a day when the promise of freedom has finally been realized for millions that endured the horrors of slavery,” she added. “Here in Moorestown, we honor this legacy by coming together as a community to reflect our shared history and reclaim our commitment to justice and equality for all.”

The Juneteenth holiday celebrates African American heritage, culture and achievements and serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial equality and justice. It is also an opportunity for all Americans to learn about the history of Blacks and acknowledge their contributions to the nation, according to the website for nonprofit Appetite For Change.

“I just always encourage people to make sure you are doing their part, just as many of my ancestors did in trying to fight for liberation,” Ballard remarked. “While you had people like Harriet Tubman working on the Underground Railroad with conductors (to get) people to freedom, you had folks like Frederick Douglass working in Congress to get it officially abolished, and then you had the Buffalo Soldiers on the ground working in the Civil War to officially end it.

“I just want to encourage everyone to make sure you take these principles not only through today, but throughout your life, and do your part in whatever way you see fit.”

The Juneteenth flag raising was sponsored by the Better Together Advisory Committee, whose purpose is to advise council on how to better protect and celebrate diversity and equity while ensuring inclusion among residents, businesses and visitors, according to the township website.

“In Better Together, we will continually plan and take action to foster and sustain a culture where all groups feel welcomed in our town,” Gonzalez explained. “We are inclusive, and we will continue to work on being inclusive.

“We will actively work to celebrate the strength of our diversity, and to ensure that Moorestown communities are well represented in policy discussions.”

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