WATERLOO — Festivities Saturday commemorating slavery’s end in the American South started with a somber reminder of violence that deeply touches the Cedar Valley’s black community.
A crowd gathered outside of Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence for a Peace Walk to Sullivan Park, where a Juneteenth celebration was held throughout the afternoon. Walkers were led by the Crusaders Drill Team from Union Missionary Baptist Church.
Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas, informing residents that the Civil War had ended. They also told slaves there that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln, freeing more than three million enslaved people.
This was the 23rd annual Juneteenth celebration hosted by the Black Hawk County chapter of the NAACP and the third year a peace walk was held in collaboration. Before activities got going at the park, the names of 124 Black Hawk County homicide victims since 1988 were read. Many, but not all, of the victims mentioned were black.
“A lot of these names on here, their perpetrators have not been brought to justice,” said Marvin Spencer Jr., who organized the walk.
After reading the names, he added: “Ladies and gentleman, these are more than just names on a sheet. These are lives lost in your community.”
Spencer said their families — some of whom were in attendance — “will never lose their pain.”
Relatives of several victims spoke to the crowd, some with great emotion.
The fact that no one had been prosecuted in many of the homicides was central to why some victims’ families participated in the event.
“This is very important. It’s just to bring peace and justice,” said Laniya Loveberry, sister of Norman Gant Jr., who was shot and killed in June 2014 at age 21. “Hopefully, this will help. Hopefully, this will touch somebody’s heart.”
Nicholle Harper, mother of Orintheo Campbell Jr., agreed that it is good to hold events like the peace walk “especially in our community, because this is where it’s happening at.”
Her son was 23 in December 2014 when he died after being shot.
Annette Davis was there for her son, Gregory Walker, who was shot and killed last month at age 33.
“I won’t ever get used to it because me and Greg had a bond that was unbreakable,” she said. “I’m not angry at anyone. I’m just waiting for justice.”
Faye Robinson participated in walk to remember her 20-year-old son, Martavious, who was shot and killed in September 2002.