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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Juneteenth celebration draws diverse crowd downtown

Woodford County Judge-Executive James Kay spoke about the meaning of Juneteenth in the day's opening ceremony on East Main Street as Chantel Bingham, left, and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift listened. (Midway Messenger photos by Al Cross)

Milan Bush, coordinator of the celebration, began the ceremony. At right, City
Council Member Mary Raglin talked with Bud Ratliff, who handled the sound.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway's Junteeenth celebration got under way today with a parade from the ballpark to downtown, followed by speeches from local officials and a reading of the new official holiday's history.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and Woodford County Judge-Executive declared Juneteenth National Freedom Day, and Chantel Bingham read its historical background: the announcement on June 19, 1865, to slaves in Galveston, Tex., that they were free as a result of the Civil War. Slavery did not officially end in Kentucky and Delaware until Dec. 6, 1865, with ratification of the 13th Amendment.

Chantel Bingham told the history of Juneteenth.
Bingham concluded, "We want everybody to take away, freedom means freedom of speech. Free your mind from all those things you were taught when you were younger that now don't make sense. Break the chain of the generational curses and let's all come together, work together as one community., one nation, one world, to free ourselves. All right?"

Vandegrift said it was one of his great honors and pleasures to make Juneteenth a city holiday last year and, with the end of the pandemic, celebrate it. "This has been a true coming-together, Black and white and brown, here all across Woodford County; we're really proud to kick it off today in Midway." 

Kay gave the major address, saying the holiday is held "to celebrate America's real values, the values of freedom and liberty, and equality and justice for all, for every single American citizen."

He continued, "Today we're setting in motion a series of events where . . . the youth here today can understand that freedom means more than what it did when our Constitution was derived. Freedom means freedom for all, and when the Constitution was written, all were not free.

Kay said the county is "working on a community" that can be safe for all, and reeled off a series of recent incidents in which African Americans died unjustly: "We are building a community where you can sleep in your bed and own a weapon and not get killed in your apartment, like Breonna Taylor."

Kay, a Democrat, then touched on the major national issue of the day: "We must make sure to ensure the vote for all, that our democracy and voting is a right, that every American . . . every Kentuckian and Woodford Countian shall have easy access to, easy access to the ballot box."

He concluded, "We know the struggle continues, and our fight is at the ballot box. That's where we win progress. That's where our unity shows itself in this great nation that can always be greater."

ZaMerion Young, left, and Nehemiah Bush led the parade
from the ballpark to downtown. (Photo by Milan Bush)
Kay acknowledged Larry Blackford, the county's first Black magistrate, and Mary Raglin, the first Black woman on the Midway City Council.

After the event, Raglin noted the good turnout from both African American and white residents. "This is meaningful, right here, to have everybody together, very meaningful. And it's only gonna get bigger. I can just see it getting bigger and better. . . . I'm loving this."

Rain threatened the parade, but dissipated before arriving. Midway writer Bob Rouse, who is white, said the ballpark, at the south end of Gratz Street, was a fitting place to begin the parade, because that is where Black and white children mixed most when they were young.

The event continues this afternoon and evening with gospel singing, a chautauqua and music.

Vendors set up in front of the historic Odd Fellows Lodge, built by African Americans at a time when "Jim Crow" segregation practices were beginning to make a mockery of emancipation. The building is under renovation by owner Ness Alamdari.

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