A Mississippi minister who had hoped to host a Juneteenth celebration for a million people on the Mall on Saturday said a disagreement with the National Park Service has forced him to move the event.
The Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr., chairman of the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council, said there will be a free, national celebration at 7 p.m. today at Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1225 R St. NW.
However, he remains upset with the Park Service. "I am disappointed. I am angry," Myers said. "We had to cancel our event because of the shenanigans on the part of the Park Service. It is what I call institutional racism."
Organizers are scheduled to hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Lincoln Memorial to address the issue.
Myers said that he applied for a permit 12 weeks ago but was told by Park Service officials that much of the Mall area already was reserved by other groups that had applied up to a year in advance.
"They lie. That is just not the case," he said. He offered no evidence to support his charges.
He said that by the time the Park Service responded in late May with an offer for some limited space, it was too late for organizers to find sponsors to finance the event.
Myers sent several letters of complaint to the Park Service and the Interior Department.
In a letter to Myers dated June 16, Terry Carlstrom, Park Service regional director for Washington, wrote that Myers's allegation "was troubling, particularly given that the National Park Service is an organization that strives to represent diversity through its employees and programs."
He told Myers that the initial request arrived on April 13 and that applications, "are considered on a first-come, first-served basis and applications are accepted a year in advance of activities. . . . As a result of previously permitted activities, we were unable to meet your initial request to use the entire National mall for a million participants because other events had already been scheduled in some park areas."
The Park Service issued a permit May 21 to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, offering an area that could accommodate 500,000 people around the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. However, Myers said he had decided by then to cancel the event.
He said he has applied for a permit for a national celebration on the Mall for 2000.
Juneteenth, a state holiday in Texas and Oklahoma, has its origins in the late part of the Civil War when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Tex. It is generally accepted that on June 19, 1865, Granger delivered the news to slaves there that they were free. Most slaves had not heard about the Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863.
Myers said his organization, which is based in Belzoni, Miss., will push to make Juneteenth a national holiday, an Independence Day for African Americans.
In Washington, a local celebration will be held at the Elks Home at 1844 Third St. NW that includes a free jazz concert at 8 p.m. today and a free health fair at 2 p.m. tomorrow, according to the Rev. Imagene B. Stewart, the event spokeswoman. At 2 p.m. Sunday, a parade led by the Elks will begin at Lincoln Road and V Street NE and follow Rhode Island Avenue back to the home, she said.
In Alexandria, a free celebration sponsored by the Alexandria Black History Resource Center and two other groups is scheduled for 1 to 6 p.m. tomorrow in the 900 block of Wythe Street that will feature music, storytelling and crafts.