Middlesboro holds 1st Juneteenth Celebration

Published 11:42 am Thursday, June 27, 2024

Middlesboro’s first ever Juneteenth Celebration was held on June 19 at the Central Arts Auditorium. The event brought together community members to commemorate the emancipation of slavery in the United States to celebrate freedom and unity.

The event was organized by Buffy Dunnaville and hosted by the Middlesboro Independent School District. Dunnaville is the program manager for Partners for Rural Impact Appalachia and part of the district’s GEAR-UP team.

“Today is a celebration of freedom,” said Dunnaville. “But the goal for me is to bring us together regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or religious beliefs because this is truly how the world is. It’s not just one group; it’s many groups. We have to decide what we will choose today. Will we choose hate, or will we choose love? Because I’m going to choose love. This is the start of making a mark here in our area.”
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, originated in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery, effectively enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years after it was issued.
Dr. Roger Cleveland, Owner and President of Millenium Learning Concepts and Middlesboro High School alumni served as the keynote speaker. Cleveland is a transformational leader who has done groundbreaking research in the field of diversity and multicultural education.

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“Sometimes we tell ‘his story’ instead of ‘history,’” said Dr. Roger Cleveland. “When you see pictures of slaves from history, they are often smiling. They wore a mask to hide their true feelings so their master’s wouldn’t see how beaten down they were. Even today, in 2024, many of us wear masks to work, hiding our true selves because racism, classism, and sexism still exist. We must not let others define us because if we do, it will confine us. Juneteenth provided opportunities for freedom, and here in Middlesboro, we have the chance to grow and prosper because we have strong leaders with vision. Unity is essential for our progress.”

The event featured several other speakers and special music. The crowd sang along with “We Are the World,” Tammie Rogers performed two gospel hymns and the youth from St. Paul Freewill Mission in Barbourville also performed.

Cleveland was surprised with a special recognition after he spoke. Nick Shoffner read a proclamation from Mayor Boone Bowling that set June 19, 2024 as Dr. Roger Cleveland Day in the city. Police Chief Petie Gilbert joined Dunnaville in presenting him with a medal and a framed copy of the proclamation.

Organizers plan to make the Community Program Honoring Juneteenth an annual event and hope to expand its reach throughout the region. For more information about the event or how to get involved next year contact Dunnaville at buffy.dunnaville@partnersrural.org.