On June 17th, Wayne County residents gathered in Lyons’ Central Park in celebration of the official declaration of Juneteenth as a recognized Federal holiday. An excited, diverse group of over 50 community members and leaders of all ages came together in celebration of the historic event in 1865 where the message of Emancipation finally reached the enslaved peoples in Texas. The group enjoyed a number of local speakers. First was Wayne County Public Defender Andy Correria who shared with the group the purposeful effort he made this past year to educate himself on aspects of the country’s history that he had not known, citing historical incidents in Wilmington and Tulsa. He spoke to the under-representation of the black and brown community on juries within Wayne County and encouraged attendees to register to vote in order to serve. Next was Wayne County Sheriff candidate Steve MacNeal who shared how a community member had reached out to him, sharing a personal story of the fear her son had of law enforcement. MacNeal said this was one of the factors that led him to first study and then embrace the concept of law enforcement acting as “guardians” to the community. Scott Comegys asked the crowd to imagine themselves as the newly-freed people on the first Juneteenth, noting the community-building efforts that had to take place then and still continue to this day.
Community Leader James Shuler took the crowd on a deep dive into the history of the Civil War and Emancipation. He wove into the history the connection that Wayne County has to Juneteenth in that Gordon Granger, the soldier who delivered the information to the enslaved people that they were freed, had in fact been born in Sodus.
Summer O’Brien of the non-profit NY Families for Tomorrow, spoke to the importance of family rights and father’s rights in the Family Court system. She noted the 3.4 million children in the U.S. who are without an intact family and the detriment that results. Austin Edick, a resident of Sodus, took the audience on a nearly poetic journey from Juneteenth 1865 through many black achievements, the presidency of Barack Obama, right through to Edick’s ability to speak on this day.
The speaking portion was rounded out by Gene Bavis, Co-Chairperson of the Wayne County Bicentennial Committee, who noted that history isn’t always pretty, however, it isn’t necessary to “rewrite” history, but to examine those aspects that have been “glossed over.”