On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned about the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The news of their freedom arrived two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the document. Now, 155 years later, Juneteenth is a celebration of African American freedom in many cities across America. The governors of New York and Virginia are even pushing to make it a holiday in their states.
But this year's Juneteenth — today — is tinged with sorrow and frustration for many black Americans. It arrives amid ongoing protests spurred by the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis resident who died May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes.
Fulton resident Kryssii Kins has planned a march this evening in Fulton. The date is no coincidence.
"This will be a particularly bittersweet Juneteenth: a celebration of how far we have come, but also a reflection on how far we still have left to go," she wrote in the event description on Facebook.
Kins lived in Phoenix, Arizona, before moving to Fulton in 1996. Phoenix is more racially diverse than Fulton, she said, and the black community often celebrated Juneteenth with fireworks. She was surprised to discover it isn't regularly recognized here in Fulton.
Juneteenth will help set the tone for the march, she said.
"I think balance is important," Kins explained. "There should be celebration — there are a few people who are going to talk about their achievements — but there will also be people speaking about brutality they've experienced, and a few who are going to have a dialogue about privilege. We have tendency to get wrapped up in grief and forget to celebrate."
She added she plans to keep everything calm and non-hostile: "I don't want anyone to feel threatened or unsafe," she said.
The event officially begins at 6 p.m. Marchers will honor "all the amazing black lives lost" while walking from the corner of Second and Nichols streets up Nichols to Sixth, east to Court Street and south to Fulton City Hall to take a knee in honor of Floyd at about 7 p.m.
Kins said she also plans to address the recent controversy in Auxvasse. Last week, Chief Kevin Suedmeyer was given a single day of administrative leave and a verbal warning after posting a threat to run over or shoot any person he saw standing in the street, among other anti-protester sentiments (bit.ly/3di3hnP).
Volunteers will pass out free water, snacks and signs. Kins is also trying to arrange for a voting registration booth.
This protest is Fulton's second this month. The first took place June 6 (bit.ly/3eeBHJM). Kins said she started planning her march in early June after a brief search of Facebook failed to pull up the first march's event page — had she known there was already a protest in the works, she might not have planned her own, she said.
"I went to the first one and really enjoyed it, then first page posted my event page and it gained like 200 (RSVPs)," Kins said. "I was like, 'Oh this is something people still want.' I am determined to keep this alive."
While Kins hasn't personally had any bad encounters with law enforcement, some of her friends haven't been as lucky, she added.
"I'm not of belief that all cops are bad or that all cops are good," she said. "I think people are people, and there's a lot of gray."
During the June 6 protest, several hundred protesters gathered at Memorial Park to share their experiences. Many spoke of fearing for the lives of black family members. Then, together, they marched through downtown Fulton — under the watchful eyes of many officers from the Fulton Police Department, Callaway County Sheriff's Office and Missouri Highway Patrol — and stopped in front of the courthouse to kneel and chant.
Aside from a few heated words from protesters after FPD and CCSO officers stationed in front of the courthouse declined to join them in kneeling, the event was peaceful.
"I really enjoyed the atmosphere at the last one," Kins said, though she mentioned seeing a few deputies making dismissive gestures toward protesters, including a few eye-rolls and face-palms.
Kins said this is her first time organizing such an event, though she's attended several protests in the area in the wake of Floyd's death. On Thursday, she met with representatives of Fulton, FPD, CCSO, local churches, the Human Rights Commission and the NAACP to fill them in on her plans. Fulton Mayor Lowe Cannell and the FPD seemed supportive, she said — though that wasn't universal.
"It felt like almost an attempt to discourage what I was doing," she said.
One of her goals for the event is to collect community feedback about how local law enforcement and government can better work with the people they police and govern.
"A lot of people will make complaints but won't file formally," Kins said. "I'm willing to write complaints down formally and open that dialogue. If they're willing to engage, I'm all for it; if not it, becomes more of a struggle for better representation that will follow through with those changes."
One thing she'd like to see is an independent review board to look over use-of-force cases among local law enforcement, she added.
Another march, this one specifically in response to Suedmeyer's posts and the local government's choice to reinstate him, is planned for June 26, local activist Aleigha Turner told the Fulton Sun. More details will follow as plans develop.