Juneteenth celebrated at Albert Lea church

Published 12:23 am Friday, June 30, 2017

On June 19, about 100 people attended a celebration of freedom at 6 p.m. in the social hall of United Methodist Church in Albert Lea. According to a press release, it was the first time Juneteenth has been celebrated in the city of Albert Lea. John V. Smith, 86, organized the event and spoke about the meaning of Juneteenth — the day when slaves received word of the Emancipation Proclamation stating that they were free.

Smith was an educator with Denver Public Schools for 35 years. He is now a resident of Albert Lea and member of United Methodist Church. Part of his presentation was a historical rendition of slavery in America. He also shared some of his family’s experiences as two of his great-grandparents — one maternal and one paternal — were slaves. When freed, one bought 1,000 acres of land, 450 of which are still in the family. The other became a Texas legislator and his picture resides in a courthouse in Texas.

According to a press release, a few people in Albert Lea have ancestors who participated in the abolitionist movement to help people escape slavery via the Underground Railroad.

Elaine Smith played a variety of spiritual songs at the Juneteenth celebration. – Provided

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John’s wife of almost 49 years, Elaine Smith, played a variety of spiritual songs on the piano. At times, some of the attendees would join in and sing along with the music.

Prior to the presentation, there was a potluck dinner, which included barbecued ribs, greens, cornbread, potato salad and sweet potato pie — all items traditionally served at Juneteenth celebrations. There were also dishes brought in by others in attendance.

The couple would like to extend their appreciation to United Methodist Church for sponsoring the event and to those who helped with the food, set up and clean up.

Smith ended his presentation with a quote from Stephen Grellet, “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”