• July 16, 2019

Juneteenth celebrates Ocean City’s black community - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Juneteenth celebrates Ocean City’s black community

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Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2019 10:43 am

OCEAN CITY – A capacity crowd filled the Ocean City High School cafeteria Saturday, June 15, for the third annual Juneteenth Celebration, which acknowledges and recognizes the achievements of Ocean City’s black community. 

Three longtime friends who grew up in Ocean City – Brittany Battle, Joshua Baker and Takiya Wilson – originally organized the event three years ago and have held it every year since.  

“We realized the rich history of the black community in Ocean City wasn’t really represented anywhere so we wanted to fill that gap,” Battle said. 

Battle, Baker and Wilson got together and founded the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization. She said the original goal was to hold an annual Juneteenth event. In June 2017 they held a celebration and brunch, honoring elders in the black community. For the second year, June 2018, the group held an informal family reunion-style cookout at the Civic Center.

The third annual celebration and brunch returned to its roots, honoring eight elders from the community for their contributions. 

“We try to have a mix od honorees; some are living and some are deceased,” Battle said. “One of our main goals is the saying ‘try to give people their flowers before they’re gone.’ We try to have folks who are still with us, elders from the community who really contributed so much to the legacy and how vibrant Ocean City’s black community was.”

Baker said the event is a family union where people return to celebrate. 

“We have people coming as far away as California to support the program. A lot of the elders or people who graduated from Ocean City High School have come back,” Baker said. 

During the presentation, Baker told attendees to tell their loved ones they are loved.

“Tell someone that you love them every time you get a chance, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll get an opportunity tomorrow to tell someone you really love you love them,” baker said. “Love enough to forgive. You can’t love if you don’t forgive.” 

Baker poured water into a plant in the memory of those family and friends who had died this year.

“We lost a lot of people this year. I get choked up,” he said. 

Mayor Jay Gillian compared the celebration to a “high school reunion” because of all the familiar faces.

He said Councilman Antwan McClellan, who is a state Assembly candidate, is a “gentleman” and that the city is a better place because of him. 

 “I know he’s running for a higher office and I kiddingly say I hope he loses because Ocean City would lose so much and the state gain so much and it’s one of those treasures or good guy you want to keep here,” Gillian said. 

The Rev. Chris Rowell said Ocean City is “one big family.”

“We’re making history but we’ve also lost a lot of history as well. We want to celebrate those that have already moved on and those that are still here. It’s important that we talk about our history and we share our history,” Rowell said, and introduced Jayda Lynn Graves, who explained the history of Juneteenth.

According to Graves, on June 19, 1865 the enslaved Africans in Texas finally learned of their freedom more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Prior to Juneteenth,  news of their freedom hadn’t reached Texas, she said. 

“This has been suggested that this was because the lack of Union troops to enforce the order or because slavers withheld the information to benefit from the stolen labor,” Graves said. “Many former slaves responded with the excitement about their freedom and uncertainty about what their next move should be.”

Graves said while some freedmen chose to stay on with their former enslavers while many others left the plantations to search for family members or search for opportunities in surrounding southern states.

Though originally celebrated in Texas, the observance of Juneteenth as a holiday in the black community spread to other parts of the United States. Graves said 45 states now observe Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday.

Freeholder E. Marie Hayes told those gathered that she “had no idea” of Juneteenth’s history. 

“Studying history can provide us with the insight into a culture’s origin, as well as the cultures which we might be less familiar, thereby increasing cross-cultural awareness and understanding,” Hayes said. 

Hayes said Ocean City’s Juneteenth Celebration “needs to continue on forever.”

“Thank you for seeing the need to create an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to the historical and cultural legacy to all of Ocean City and throughout Cape May County,” Hayes said to the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization Committee. 

Cape May County Sheriff Bob Nolan and Hayes presented recipients with awards on behalf of the county.  

Councilman Bob Barr presented honorees with congressional resolutions from Congressman Jeff Van Drew. 

 “Each of the honorees are forever in the congressional record,” Barr said.

Assemblymen Matt Milam and Bruce Land presented the award recipients with state proclamations.

This year, the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization honored: 

– Bernice McClellan (Family Values Award) was born in Centenary, S.C. She attended Centenary public schools before moving to Ocean City. She married Johnnie McClellan, Sr. and had four children. McClellan was employed by the Ocean City Board of Education for 15 years and was a member of the Shiloh Baptist Church where she served on the Pastor’s Aide Ministry, Board of Trustees Ministry, and the Culinary Ministry. She died on Sept. 16, 2012.

– Mary Jane Granger (Philanthropic Leadership Award) was born in Mullins, S.C. and moved to Ocean City at the age of 27. She was a very active businesswoman, owning a number of prominent and successful businesses. From 1971 to 1979, she owned Granger Cleaning Service. She also owned Jane’s Farm Market and was the Chief Executive Officer of Pete’s Professional Car Shine from 1980 to 1987. Granger is well-known for her local daycare she provided to children, Mary Jane’s Daycare, which she owned from 1987 to 1995. She was active in volunteer work, particularly as a member of the NAACP. Granger died on Dec. 10, 2003. 

– Tommy Miles (Business Leadership Award) was raised in Marion, S.C. and worked as a construction worker and gas station attendant before relocating to Ocean City in 1962. He worked at Bob’s Seafood and Peter Granger’s Cleaning Service. In Ocean City he met and married Mary Hayward-Miles in 1966. Miles is the owner of Tommy Miles Window Cleaning and Painting. While managing his business, he worked for the City of Ocean City until his retirement. He currently resides in Ocean City with his wife. 

– Mary Hayward-Miles (Business Leadership Award) was born in Rhem, S.C. and graduated from Chavis College and earned an Associate’s Degree in Computer Programming from Atlantic Community College. She moved to Ocean City in 1964 and married Tommy Miles in 1966. The couple has four children. She retired from Spencer’s Gifts and began working at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Miles is a member of the Shiloh Baptist Church. She resides in Ocean City with her husband. 

– The Rev. John T. Winters (Spiritual Leadership Award) was born in Raleigh, N.C. in 1937 and relocated to the northeast in the 1970s. He was ordained in 1972 at Jones Memorial Baptist Church. Winters was installed at Shiloh Baptist Church in Ocean City in 1990. He remained a spiritual leader of Shiloh Baptist Church until his retirement in 2012. He currently resides in Philadelphia with his wife Geraldine Winters. 

– Richard Tolson (Community Ally Award) was born in Ocean City in 1958 and graduated from Ocean City High School in 1976. He started a career in the masonry industry, working with Frank Galante & Son. In 1988 he joined the Bricklayers Union and became a union organizer in 1990. Tolson is currently the Director of the Bricklayers Union for the state of New Jersey, a position he’s held since 2006. In 2012, Tolson received a Bachelor’s degree in Labor Studies from the National Labor College in Silver Springs, Md. He is currently the vice chairman of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Tolson resides in Ocean City with his wife Sonya Bertini. 

Five students who received the 2019 Daniel Lee Henry Scholarship Award are: Charlene Baker (Stockton University), Di’Avian Blackmon (Rowan University), Tori Rolls (Montclair State University), Alencia Yeoman (Atlantic Cape Community College) and Antonio Yeoman (Eastern University). 

The award is named for Daniel Henry, a longtime Ocean City resident who worked as a sales associate in Kabat’s Men’s Shop on Asbury Avenue for 30 years. He also worked as a toll collector for the Cape May County Bridge Commission and a janitor at the Ocean City Intermediate School and Ocean City High School. Henry died Feb. 15, 2006. 

The Coalition Against Rape and Abuse received a $500 donation in the name of Charlene Taylor Hemphill, whose life ended from domestic violence in 1983. 

A clip of the local documentary “Reflections: Honor, Legacy, & Family” was shown. In the documentary, elder members of the resort’s black community were interviewed and shared their reflection growing up in Ocean City. 





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