Forsyth County Commissioners on Thursday recognized Juneteenth and took a stand against racism and prejudice.
At a regular meeting, Chairwoman Laura Semanson issued a Juneteenth proclamation to “reflect on this event and recognize it as a day of freedom and jubilation.”
“I just want to say, on behalf of myself and any other commissioners or employees who would join me in this, that we definitely express our deep sadness in the recent tragic events that have occurred across the country,” Semanson said. “Racism, hate and prejudice have no place in Forsyth County and will not be tolerated, and we condemn those acts.”
Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19, the day in 1865 when federal orders announced in Galveston, Texas that all slaves were freed due to the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed more than two years before but word had not reached those who were enslaved, and the end of the Civil War.
While the day has been celebrated for more than 150 years, in recent years its celebration has become more widespread. Georgia was the 37th state to officially recognize Juneteenth in 2011.
Semanson said in her remarks, “for people who may not have been aware of the significance of that date in the past, we’re all learning about that.”
“We recognize that each of us individually and all of us collectively share in the responsibility to make a difference in how we see our community and see each other,” she said. “We share in the ability to create positive change. We are encouraged by some of the meaning positive conversations that are taking place right here in our community.”
Forsyth County has its own history of racial issues, the most prominent of which occurred in 1912, when Rob Edwards, a black man, was beaten and killed in his jail cell by a mob of at least 2,000 white residents after being arrested the day before in connection with the alleged rape and murder of Sleety Mae Crow, a white Forsyth County resident. After his death, Edwards’ body was dragged through downtown Cumming and hung from a telephone pole.
Along with a similar incident days before in which another white woman was allegedly attacked by two black men, the result was the county’s black population, with an estimated 1,100 residents in 1910, according to Census records, were forced out of the county. Two other black men, Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniel, who was arrested at the same time as Edwards, were found guilty for the crime and executed by hanging.
The county was later the source of national attention in 1987, when Hosea Williams and other civil rights activists marched twice through Cumming and were met by counterdemonstrators from the Ku Klux Klan, the majority of whom were from outside of Forsyth.
As Forsyth County’s population exploded starting in the 1990s, many tried to distance the county from those events. But several projects have been undertaken recently to address the county’s past.
In January, members of the Community Remembrance Project of Forsyth County, the Historical Society of Forsyth County and the Equal Justice Initiative came together to remember Edwards and collect two jars of soil with his name and date of death – one that will stay in Forsyth and one that will go to EJI’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama – from outside the Forsyth County Administration Building, near the site where Edwards’ body was hanged.
Also this year, Forsyth’s first Juneteenth celebrations, on June 19 and 20, were planned at Fowler Park and downtown Cumming, respectively.
In Semanson’s remarks on Thursday, she said local leaders were committed to listening and creating a culture of trust in the county, where leaders “stand with all residents of our county fighting for justice, human and civil rights for all.”
“The gathering two weeks ago on the courthouse steps was an example of what our community can do when we come together to say that people of all races, ethnicities, colors and faiths contribute to what makes Forsyth County a wonderful place to live and work,” Semanson said. “We will actively seek ways to encourage an inclusive community, one dedicated to ensuring that going forward we create a new history for Forsyth County, a history that stands up against all forms of racism and injustice.”