Editorial: The drums got us moving

“When the drummers start drumming, they’re calling the people together,” the Rev. Natalie Wimberly said Saturday as she stood atop the steps at Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church in Greenport, swaying to the beat. Those drumbeats marked the official start of Greenport’s first Juneteenth parade, which kicked off the village’s third annual celebration of the long-observed commemoration, but only recently-minted national holiday. Volunteers were still hustling up and down the steps, handing out programs and flags, making sure all attendees representing various organizations had their name tags and finalizing parade preparations. The drums continued, pausing only for participants to join in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and then listen to the Rev. Wimberly’s ceremonial reading from General Order No. 3, and her call-and-response speech, which asked “Why we here?”

The quick and resounding answer was “Freedom!” On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and Union soldiers marched to Texas to issue General Order No. 3, which informed residents who remained enslaved there that they were free. For two and a half years, they had been unaware that they were no longer the property of others. Black communities have been celebrating on June 19 since 1866, but it wasn’t declared a national holiday until 2021 — a notable gap in time.

Those assembled on Third Street Saturday represented many ethnicities, , age groups and organizations, and though their numbers were somewhat small, the enthusiasm and community support was palpable. That spirit of unity was clearly at work as the Rev. Wimberly proved she welcomed all by pulling parade watchers right into march so they could wave their flags alongside her. The gathering that followed in Mitchell Park hit all the marks of a joyous yet meaningful day.

But it was also a day for reflection, and recognizing that despite the many inherent injustices embedded in our county’s history, it is our country’s history and it’s one we are compelled to understand, learn from and, above all, teach to future generations. Only then will we truly be able to secure the “more perfect union” President Lincoln called on all of us to help engender.

The drums got us moving on Third Street at 10 a.m. and kept us moving at 2 p.m. in Mitchell Park thanks to all the work the Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church and other local churches and civic organizations did to put the event together. Now it’s up to us to keep moving forward — today, the day after Juneteenth, and every other chance we have to prove we truly believe in freedom for all.