All photos by Carolyn de Berry
6/25: An older version of this article stated that Parker and Vaughan were interrupted but the Haus of Lacks speakers spoke after Parker and before councilwoman Sharon Hightower. Additional quotes from the speakers were also added for clarity.
“What is wrong with you people? It is not June 19th, it is June 21st! This is not our Juneteenth guys,” a Haus of Lacks artist shouted, expressing their dissatisfaction with an event meant to be celebratory. The Juneteenth rally at LeBauer Park this past Sunday was one tinged high in emotion with some commemorating the freedom of their ancestors, while others were upset at what they believed to be disregard of bigger issues at hand.
“Candy Rain” by Soul for Real blasted through multiple large speakers as visitors flowed into the park. Vendors set up their tables ready to sell products ranging from custom art to candles and oils to T-shirts in the hopes that attendees would support Black businesses. Speakers including Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, organizer April Parker, and city councilwoman Sharon Hightower, each took the stage and elaborated on ways Greensboro can come together as a community and how to prevent instances of racial injustice.
Of course, there were some who were not interested in anything Vaughan had to say as they chided her for her inaction in the Marcus Smith case and holding the city police officers accountable.
After Vaughan and Parker spoke, the scheduled speakers were interrupted by two individuals with Haus of Lacks who pushed back on the notion that Black people are truly free in the city when the Greensboro Police Department is covering up murders, referencing the deaths of Marcus Smith, who died at the hands of police in 2018, and Tremell Wilkins, who died after being chased by police in 2010.
“Baby, my hands are covered in paint, not blood,” shouted one of the speakers while raising both hands above their head, eerily mirroring the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture. Parker invited the artist to speak on the microphone but they declined. The passion and anger in their voice made it so loud they did not need it.
“They don’t care about us,” the artist shouted as the crowd clapped and shouted back in affirmation. “I can sympathize with George Floyd saying ‘Mama.’”
“We are not here to cause a ruckus,” said the artist’s daughter.
The artist continued by questioning how a city known for corruption can put together an event celebrating freedom when that same city funds itself on the struggles of Black people. They also emphasized that Juneteenth is a day a small group of slaves learned they were free, but the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was not ratified until December of that same year. They emphasized that there is nothing wrong with celebrating Juneteenth, but that they wanted people to know what they are truly celebrating. The artist then invited the crowd to check out Black Elm Street, a collective of Black artists engaging in race-related discussions before leaving the space.
Parker, who watched the two artists from the stage, let others in attendance know that if they wanted to speak during the event, that they were welcome to.
“We give great thanks for your voice,” she said to the artists as they walked away.
Mikail Brooks, organizer of the rally, said outbursts were to be expected due to the sensitive nature of the event, which is one of the reasons he organized it.
“I want us to be heard and bring up these uncomfortable issues that plague our community,” he said.
His goal for the rally was to encourage peace and unification on Juneteenth, despite a few outspoken attendees who aired their grievances.
“Everything we are fighting for is so achievable, we just have to stand together and take it,” Brooks said. “Especially here in Greensboro where so many historic movements and actions towards justice have paved the way for headlines of change across America.”
Pastor Richard Hughes of St. James Presbyterian Church used his chance on the microphone to elaborate on his personal definition of freedom.
“Justice delayed is inevitably justice denied,” Hughes said, invoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.
He explained the concept of a “white backlash,” the act of white people deliberately sabotaging Black success once it happens, with examples that included underfunding historically Black colleges and the mass incarceration of Black men. Hughes stressed that Blacks in this country cannot be free as long as they are 13 percent of the population but only control 2 percent of the country’s wealth. He finished with a prayer that wished wellness over the crowd and a better future for Black people in this country.
Debbie Hutchinson, an attendee of the rally, explained her definition of the holiday.
“It reminds me of our past and how to really move forward into the future we really have to know what happened in the past and think about all the people that made sacrifices and died for us so that we can have the opportunities that we have today,” Hutchinson said. “It’s important today with all the injustices going on to keep moving forward.”
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