Port St. Joe welcomed the first ever national holiday of Juneteenth Saturday, with a tribute to two soldiers for freedom.
One who fought on behalf of the Underground Railroad and one who died in service during the Vietnam War.
Sponsored by the Pioneer Bay Community Development Corporation and the Project Area Coalition, the Farmacy at 217 Avenue A played host to a day-long Juneteenth celebration, complete with a visit from Harriet Tubman.
In the afternoon, the George Washington Elementary-High School Museum presented an oil painting to Mary Sims, the widow of Staff Sgt. Clifford Chester Sims.
The oil painting was of her husband, a graduate of Washington High School, who was presented the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest and most prestigious military decoration, for his heroic actions during the Vietnam War.
Nathan Peters Jr., the museum’s president, said the museum, which opens on holidays, opened for Juneteenth, the newly created national holiday commemorating the end of slavery.
“The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln in 1863, but it was not until the 13th Amendment was ratified (that slavery was abolished),” said Peters. (See related story)
“Mary Sims called me and said she was coming down because she heard I had a picture to present to her,” Peters said. “She came down and she brought her family, about 12 people in the group.”
He said the painting, by Regina Washadaugh, had been in the museum for about a year. “It was a special painting,” Peters said. “She (Mary Sims) needed that personally more so than the museum.”
The day was a good one for the museum, as several visitors stopped by. “Quite a few came through to see the museum,” he said. “We had a good day yesterday; we probably had at least 50 people come through.”
Cheryl Steindorf, who coordinates the Farmacy, said the Juneteenth celebration included recognition of the many donors, volunteers, staff and partner by Pioneer Bay.
Donors included the Church of God in Christ, Victory First Born Holiness, Trinity Episcopal Church, and the Ministerial Alliance, as well as individuals who included Dr. Patricia Hardman, Carol White, Lynn Lewis, Deborah Crosby, Beverly Ash, Sherry Bolden, Chester Davis, Shirley Jenkins, Rosemary Lewis and Port St. Joe Commissioners Scott Hoffman, David Ashbrook and Brett Lowry.
Volunteers recognized included George Williams, Letha Mathews, Deborah Crosby, Louis Byrd, Nancy Luther and Brittney Bowers, along with staffers Kharisma Langston, Kendall Harris, Cherry Smith, Joyce Davis, Valencia Foxworth, Marilyn Bolden, Carolyn Byrd and Sharon Speights.
Saluted as partners were CareerSource, the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County. Ascension Sacred Heart and Barnhart Farm.
In addition to prayers and the singing of “Wade in the Water,” led by Terry Smith, there was lots going on.
The Post St. Joe public library offered a host of activities for kids, who enjoyed fresh popcorn courtesy of the Junior Service League
Ascension Sacred Heart offered screenings for cholesterol and blood pressure, part of its men’s health month programming.
The Port St. Joe Community Garden raffled off garden tools and tomato plants. Clarence Monnett, a retired teacher, shared historical photos of North Port St. Joe
The soon-to-be opened Mama Dot’s Café offered a preview of its food, including fried chicken, okra, cabbage, greens and sweet potato pie.
Steindorf said she expects the new café will be opened by month’s end.
The Farmacy offered produce at the store, from Barnhart Farms, part of its regular schedule of bringing fresh locally-grown fruits and vegetables.
Highlighting the event was a guest appearance by Harriett Tubman, the legendary leader of the Underground Railroad. Portrayed by Gloria Fennell, Tubman brought to life her legendary work in providing a way for fugitive slaves to find their way to freedom in the North and into Canada.
“I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death,” Tubman told the audience, using quotes from her recorded past. “If I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”