An event celebrating Juneteenth Day, a nationwide commemoration of the abolishment of slavery in the U.S., is planned late Friday afternoon in North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro.
A flyer for the event called it a “Community Walk and Peaceful Rally” to celebrate freedom. The flyer urges participants to practice social distancing and wear face masks to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Spokesmen for governments of the two towns said they were told by organizer Jamella Garrett of North Wilkesboro that participants will gather at North Wilkesboro’s Memorial Park for the walk, which starts at 5 p.m. and will be a little over a mile long.
The walk will end at the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons and Wilkes Communications Pavilion stage on Main Street, Wilkesboro. Garrett told the Wilkes Journal-Patriot and town officials that the event at the town-owned commons will end about 8 p.m.
Wilkesboro officials said Garrett stated that there will be a couple of speakers, artwork, hot dogs for sale and music at the town-owned commons. Wilkesboro Police Chief Craig Garris said she assured him that it will be peaceful. “She said no one to her knowledge from outside Wilkes County is coming,” he added.
Garris and North Wilkesboro Police Chief Joe Rankin issued permits for the walk to Garrett and her husband, Vidal Garrett, Thursday afternoon. The North Wilkesboro permit identifies them as being with the “Juneteenth Group.”
The walk will go down Wilkesboro Avenue from Memorial Park to Wilkesboro Boulevard, cross the Yadkin River bridge between the two towns on Wilkesboro Boulevard and then go west on Main Street, Wilkesboro, to the commons.
A statement posted Thursday on the Wilkesboro Police Department’s Facebook page said regular commuters should take another route during this time.
According to the statement, “Officers will be blocking intersections for the parade of participants, similar to the Christmas parade, so no through traffic will be allowed until the parade has entered the commons area on Bridge Street.”
It continued, “Participants have been advised concerning social distancing and masks are encouraged. To address the rampant rumors concerning potential civil unrest, we have a very positive relationship with the organizer, who assures us that this event will be peaceful and non-violent with the focus on the celebration of Juneteenth.”
Rankin said North Wilkesboro officers will provide similar assistance on the north side of the river. He said he expects a peaceful event, but noted that there are people “trying to stir the pot.”
Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said he has received 10-20 phone calls a day for several days from people “asking about people being bused in” for the event. Noland said they all say they read this on Facebook.
“We certainly haven’t received any credible information to lead us to believe any protestors from outside Wilkes County are coming.”
Noland said his biggest concern is the possibility of armed people coming to Wilkesboro ready to confront participants in a peaceful event who are exercising their constitutional free speech rights.
Contingency plans are in place for disruptive occurrences and the town doesn’t need any assistance, said Noland, adding that he plans to be there to watch.
Specifically, Juneteenth Day commemorates an event on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas. On that day, Union Gen. Gordon Granger publicly read federal orders proclaiming all slaves in Texas freed as a result of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation over two years earlier in the midst of the Civil War.
Lincoln’s proclamation couldn’t take effect in much of the South until the Civil War ended, which effectively occurred on April 9, 1865, with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
According to Juneteenth.com, Juneteenth Day is rapidly expanding as a recognized holiday nationwide.
“Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing,” stated the website.