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Elgin celebrates Juneteenth with prayer, history

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    Anthony Moore (right) addresses the crowd. Photos by Julianne Hodges
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    Local NAACP President Gwendolyn Johnson (center) addresses the crowd as the event begins.
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    Elgin Juneteenth Organization President Bettye Lofton reads the City of Elgin's Juneteenth proclamation.
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    Byron Mitchell sings “A Change is Gonna Come.”
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    Elgin Police Chief Patrick South introduces some of the members of the group that has come together to address issues in Elgin. From left to right: Steven Ward, South, Greg Long, Anthony Moore, Jason Huddleston, D.W. Townsend.
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    Greg Long, the pastor at Lost Pines Cowboy Church, leads a prayer.
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    D.W. Townsend, pastor at Winn's Memorial Baptist Church, addresses the crowd before leading a prayer.
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    Elgin Juneteenth Organization President Bettye Lofton shows off her organization's T-shirt for sale.

In place of a parade and large celebration, Elginites gathered on Friday morning to celebrate Juneteenth with speeches and prayer.

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Texas when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, freeing Texas slaves two years after the proclamation was first issued. Last weekend would have been Elgin’s 21st Juneteenth Celebration, but the parade and celebration were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, community leaders put together a program of prayer and celebration of Juneteenth at the lot in front of the police station.

Elgin NAACP chapter president Gwendolyn Johnson began the program by welcoming those gathered. Then, Anthony Moore, who organized last week’s protest, and Greg Long, pastor of the Lost Pines Cowboy Church, spoke about the history of Juneteenth. Long delivered a prayer acknowledging the United States’ “sin of diminishing (God’s) image in our black brothers and sisters.”

“Even though President (Abraham) Lincoln signed the proclamation two years earlier, the lack of Union soldiers in the Confederate state of Texas meant the proclamation was not enforced until General Granger arrived,” Long said. “We need a whole host of major generals today so that racial injustice and freedom does not remain a proclamation, but becomes a reality.”

Next, Elgin Juneteenth Organization president Bettye Lofton read the City of Elgin’s proclamation for Juneteenth, which was read and approved at Tuesday’s virtual city council meeting.
Byron Mitchell performed a passionate rendition of the song “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Elgin Police Chief Patrick South spoke to the crowd and introduced some of the local church leaders present who had joined a group to work towards change, which includes Long, Reverend Steven Ward from Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, Elgin First Baptist Church pastor Jason Huddleson and D.W. Townsend, pastor of Winn’s Memorial Baptist Church.

Moore spoke about Juneteenth and the challenges African-Americans have faced, ending his speech by encouraging the black community to support each other, pursue education and work hard.

“Today, we will stand together as one race,” he said. “Today, we will be proud to African-American. Today and every day, black is beautiful. Today is Juneteenth.”

Townsend delivered the closing prayer, asking for courage to continue to stand and speak out against injustice.

“Paul said, ‘I sought the Lord three times to remove this thorn from my side,’” he said. “But the Lord said, ‘My grace is sufficient.’ So, when it never passes, I know that the Lord’s grace is sufficient to get me through.”