MOULTRIE, Ga. — A committee of local people is planning Moultrie’s first celebration of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth commemorates the freeing of African American slaves at the end of the Civil War. It traces its history to Galveston, Texas, where Gen. Gordon Granger ordered the slaves freed June 19, 1865. It became a national holiday in 2021 when President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

It is traditionally celebrated on the third Saturday in June.

Across the country, many cities and states commemorated Juneteenth for years before it became a national holiday — including nearby Valdosta — but Moultrie has not.

The inaugural event is planned for 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, June 17, in downtown Moultrie, according to the Rev. R.L. Baker, senior pastor of Kingdom Living Ministries of Moultrie and a spokesman for the organizing committee.

Baker said several local speakers have already confirmed they’ll participate, but he’s awaiting a response from the office of Sen. Raphael Warnock, who he hopes will be the event’s keynote speaker.

Among the local speakers will be Darren Roberson, believed to be Colquitt County government’s first Black department head, Bishop Vincent Jordan, and pastors Dorothy Glass, Keith Hall and Robert Collins. Singers Shauntae Moore and Co-Pastor Thessie Baker will perform, and local poets John Nicholson, Simeon Thomas and Persophone Taylor will present their poems.

Baker said Moultrie Mayor Bill McIntosh will read a proclamation, and City Councilwoman Wilma Hadley will present the opening prayer.

Excerpts of the Emancipation Proclamation will be read by Michael Wheeler.

Other participants will include the NAACP, praise dancers and Bautista Martial Arts. About 40 vendors are signed up, Baker said.

Food will be available, and there will be bounce houses and other entertainment for children.

Baker said he’s also waiting for a response from a local bank, who he hopes will send someone to discuss economic empowerment.

“I believe this is the last piece of what Dr. [Martin Luther] King wanted to do — talk about economic empowerment — that he didn’t get a chance to do,” Baker said.

Since Juneteenth is now an official national holiday, Baker expects Moultrie’s celebration to become an annual event. Future years may feature a banquet, a parade and a concert, he said.

Anyone who wishes to participate — vendors, church groups or others — can call (229) 429-5263 for more information.

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