Unity march, Underground Railroad tour honor Juneteenth

Dozens of people participate in a Unity March down Massachusetts Street. Saturday's march was part of the Juneteenth celebration, which recognizes the end of slavery.

A show of unity Saturday morning launched another day of activities in Lawrence’s Juneteenth celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.

Dozens of people of different racial backgrounds and one dog participated in the Unity March, which began at Sixth and Massachusetts streets and continued through downtown to South Park. The marchers then rejoined others for a day of music, food and children’s games at Burcham Park.

“We wanted blacks and whites to celebrate Juneteenth as a family,” said the Rev. Gregory Gray, of St. James A.M.E. Church, 647 Maple St., who helped carry a Juneteenth banner at the front of the parade.

The date of June 19, 1865, known as Juneteenth, is considered the date when the last slaves were freed in Texas, two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

“The Emancipation Proclamation was just paper,” Gray said. “We’re celebrating it with life.”

At Burcham, children played on swings and bounced in the moonwalk while their parents ate, looked over crafts at vendors’ tables and listened to the various bands that performed most of the day.

Michelle Fizer was at the park with her children enjoying the unseasonably cool day.

“I didn’t know a lot about Juneteenth,” said Fizer, of Lawrence. “We celebrate July Fourth and other holidays, and we need to celebrate this, too. I’ve explained to our kids what happened on Juneteenth and why it is important to remember it.”

About 10 people boarded a bus for an Underground Railroad tour, visiting two sites where slaves are thought to have hidden on their way to freedom. One site was at the Art Executive Park Office, at Kasold Drive and Peterson Road, were abolitionist John Doy lived. The second stop was the Lawrence fire station at Stone Barn Terrace and Lawrence Avenue, where John Brown is thought to have hidden slaves.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan, was on the tour.

“Lawrence is known as a historic place in history,” said Moore, who represents the 3rd District, which includes the eastern half of Lawrence. “It’s really important that people know the history of Kansas and Lawrence and how it fits into abolition history.”

Moore said it was fitting for Lawrence to celebrate Juneteenth in a year when there has been much discussion about black history because of the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, the historic case that paved the way for school desegregation.

Also on the tour was Ndeye Ceesay, a native of West Africa who has lived in Lawrence for 15 years. Ceesay emphasized the importance of never forgetting the historic struggle for racial equality.

The Juneteenth celebration, which began Wednesday, concludes this morning with a 7 a.m. prayer breakfast at Victory Bible Baptist Church, 1942 Mass.