MARIETTA — Hundreds of marchers of all races and ages gathered at the Cobb NAACP office on Roswell Street in Marietta on Friday afternoon and made the nearly mile-long march to Marietta Square in recognition of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, the date two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation when word reached Texas that all slaves were to be freed.
County and Marietta city officials joined NAACP members of all ages and hundreds who’d gathered to show their support in holding signs and banners and chanting as they marched toward the Square.
Another large crowd met the marchers at the Square, cheering, clapping and videoing them as they arrived. Police, who shut down Roswell Street for the march, estimated the combination equated to at least 500.
The scene mirrored the peaceful protests that took place all over Cobb in recent weeks. Protesters across the nation responded to the death of George Floyd, whose killing by a former Minneapolis police officer was caught on video. The former officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he lie in handcuffs on the street.
Protesters around the country have since then called for police reforms and many other measures to address systemic racism in policing, courts and other areas of government.
Jeriene Grimes, president of the Cobb NAACP said the organization strayed from its usual annual Juneteenth festivities to have a march and memorial service in light of the recent events around the country. Many marchers held signs with the names of black men and women killed by police or in acts of apparent hate-inspired violence.
Still, the gathering was a celebration, with moments of musical acts, dancing and poetry.
“We want people to know that Juneteenth is important, it commemorates the end of slavery. I’m just excited to see that everyone has come to join us to mark this important day,” Grimes said. “I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I’m extremely excited. The number (of people) is excellent.”
Deane Bonner, past president of the Cobb NAACP and Grimes’ mother, was moved to tears as she watched the hundreds of marchers gather in front of the stage at Glover Park. Bonner called it “phenomenal” to see young marchers in particular so passionate about making change.
“You can see the change. To see those young folks and the diversity — those young folks will change this world, and it’s so timely,” she said. “I was the (NAACP) president for 20 years here in Cobb County, but I have personally never felt this kind of momentum.”
When the marchers arrived at the Square, they also heard brief addresses from Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce, Commissioner Lisa Cupid, District Attorney Joyette Holmes, Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland, former state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, Georgia NAACP President James Woodall, Cobb Public Safety Director Randy Crider, Cobb Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Mason and others.
The speakers impressed upon the crowd the significance of Juneteenth, the importance of voting, the measures that are being implemented in the county to address racism and pointed out that “change is happening.”
Boyce pointed to the June primary elections, in which Angela Brown and Kellie Hill — two women of color — won seats on the Cobb Superior Court. They will become the first two African Americans to serve on the Cobb Superior Court.
Brown, the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, also unseated an incumbent, Judge Reuben Green.
Boyce also pointed to the fact that it is possible that after the general elections in November, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners could have three seated African Americans in January.
Cupid is running against Boyce for chairman, Fitz Johnson is headed into an August runoff for the District 2 commissioner seat and the race between District 4 candidates Shelia Edwards and Monique Sheffield — both women of color — will also be decided in an August runoff.
Copeland further urged attendees to go to the polls, saying “marching without voting is like trying to kill a bear with a BB gun.”
“We know that black lives matter, but we also know that all lives matter. We want to make sure that we value all lives, so that people everywhere can come together in unity like we’re doing today,” he continued. “You can fix what you will not face, you can’t tackle what you will not confront and you’ll never be able to get delivered from what you will not deal with.”
Woodall told the crowd of hundreds on the Square that, as they celebrate the end of institutional slavery, they should remember, “we’ve got people still enslaved right now.”
“Right this second, we are in a war to ensure our people can live,” he said, naming those who have become a rallying cry for recent nationwide movements — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and most recently, Rayshard Brooks.
Morgan called the gathering of the diverse group of hundreds celebrating the anniversary of the official end of slavery while still calling for further change a “beautiful sight.”
“This is what America should look like and feel like,” she said.