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By MIKE SANDROLINI
MAYWOOD | Father’s Day, held Sunday, is the most celebrated day on the June calendar, but another date this month that perhaps doesn’t have quite the notoriety as Father’s Day or Flag Day—yet has been celebrated in the U.S. longer than either of these days—is Juneteenth, which was Monday.
Juneteenth dates back to 1865. The official end of the Civil War occurred in April of that year, but news of the end of the war moved slowly. On June 19, 1965, around 2,000 Union troops came into Galveston, Texas, with General Gordon Granger, to occupy the state on behalf of the federal government—bringing with them the news that the war had ended, and that slaves in the state were now free.
Granger made the following announcement:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.”
Hence, slaves in that state—numbering around 250,000—immediately became free.
Though Juneteenth is not a national holiday, it has been celebrated every year since 1865, predominantly locally. Maywood held its first proclamation ceremony to mark the day in 2015—the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth—and last Saturday continued with its third annual proclamation ceremony in front of the historic Maywood Soldiers Widow’s and Orphans Home, located at 224 N. 1st Ave.
Following the proclamation ceremony, the celebration continued with music, discussions and an authentic Juneteenth Soul Food Feast that went until 6 p.m. at the Operation Uplift grounds, 104 S. 5th Ave.
Mayor Edwenna Perkins, village manager Willie Norfleet, Jr., Police Chief Val Talley and former trustee Mike Rogers—who was instrumental in organizing the inaugural proclamation ceremony in 2015—were among those who participated in this year’s ceremony.
“It’s kind of like the culmination and the recognition of the last slaves in Texas finally realizing that they were set free after a two-year period and that’s what Juneteenth means for me, especially as an African-American,” Talley said. “It means that finally as a group of people we became aware of the fact that there were improved opportunities for us. That’s one of the reasons I can be the Chief of Police of Maywood (is) because of those improved opportunities.”
Norfleet and Rogers wore replica uniforms that Union soldiers donned.
Around 186,000 African-Americans served in the United States Colored Troops volunteer infantry, cavalry and artillery during the Civil War. Nearly 40,000 of those soldiers died.
The Civil War, and African-Americans who served in it, are of particular interest to Rogers. His great-great grandfather, Jacob Rogers, was a part of the 1st Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry—the first black regiment in a northern state to be organized and see combat during the Civil War.
“I’m very proud of that,” Rogers said. “When I was doing my genealogy research, I found out about that and that led me to learn a whole lot more about the Civil War, the participation of colored troops and history.”
“We started this celebration under the inspiration and guidance of former trustee Mike Rogers, a person who doesn’t like to get credit for anything,” Norfleet said. “But today I’m going to say without his inspiration and motivation, we may not be doing this celebration.”
When asked what the proclamation uttered by Gen. Granger in Texas over 150 years ago means to him as an African-American, Norfleet replied, “One thing you’ve always got to consider is when people are trying to advance themselves, you always have to talk about, ‘Where is the starting line?’ If your starting line has been working for somebody else for maybe about 200 years or so, you’re at a huge disadvantage, but it’s the precepts of saying, ‘OK, it is now time to do with yourself and do for yourself.
“I think today’s time is a representation of it. The village of Maywood has always been the town about opportunity. My family moved here in 1970 (from Chicago) and for us it was, ‘What a wonderful place to go.’ How to live a little better; a higher quality of life, better education and higher aspirations.
“When you do that, then it’s almost understood that the sense of idleness is not going to be anything that you perpetuate. I think when we read the final clause of it (the Juneteenth proclamation in 1865), it said, ‘Don’t come down to the fort thinking that somebody’s going to do something for you. You need to eliminate your idleness, start working for yourself and start relying upon yourself.’ ”
As was noted in a story last month, the village has the vacant Soldiers Widow’s and Orphans Home —along with vacant land adjacent to the building along Lake Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue—up for sale for redevelopment purposes. Since the home—built in 1924 by the daughters of Union veterans to house widows and children of Union civil war veterans—was declared a village landmark last July, it qualifies under Cook County’s Class L Property Tax Incentive Program.
Under this program, “owners of qualifying commercial and industrial properties designated as ‘landmarks’ and undergoing ‘substantial rehabilitation’ can have their property tax assessment levels reduced for a 12-year period,” according to the MacRostic Historic Advisors LLC website.
Norfleet said there is someone interested in potentially bringing two developments to the northwest side of 1st Avenue and Lake Street—just south of the Soldiers Widow’s and Orphans Home. However, he said, “We don’t have a formal proposal to submit to the (village) board yet, but that’s in the process.
“Until they (developers) submit a formal proposal, obviously we don’t have anything, but there have been conversations.”
Norfleet added that the village had an offer from another developer to develop the land directly across the street from the Widow’s and Orphans Home (which is currently a vacant lot), but “we would like to have more of a retail establishment going in rather than the project that was proposed.”
“We are getting some interest and it’s just a matter of a short time before these things happen,” he said.