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Commemorating history

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Commemorating history

Annual Juneteenth festival celebrates liberation, educates about struggles of slavery.

By Carl Lewis

Sunday, Jun. 14, 2009

Four years ago, Nduta Mwangi, 39, lived in a small tenement apartment in Kenya, where she and her sisters sewed traditional African dresses for a living.

Saturday, she brought those dresses to Macon and put them on sale at the annual Juneteenth Freedom Festival at Tattnall Square Park.

“These dresses represent who I am and who we as African-Americans are. It’s our living symbolic legacy,” she said.

The festival was a daylong celebration of Juneteenth, the holiday which commemorates the liberation of slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

“It’s sort of like an African-American Independence Day,” said Michelle Fitz, a festival organizer.

But Fitz said that Juneteenth isn’t just for African-Americans.

“It’s a way to educate people of all races about the struggles of slavery. So many people have no idea or they forget what our people went through,” she said.

The festival featured live jazz music, arts and crafts vendors and educational presentations.

Festival director George Muhammad said he expected as many as 1,000 people to attend the festival by the end of the day.

Baatin Muhammad, a member of the Middle Georgia Jazz Allstar Band, said the festival is one of the band’s best opportunities to play yet.

“We’re really excited to play at this event in particular because of what it means to us. It means freedom. It means liberty. It means everything jazz music is supposed to be about,” he said.

One of the festival highlights was a Civil War era re-enactment that demonstrated the black freedom struggle.

Clifford Price, who’s been putting on the re-enactment in his spare time for the past 22 years, said his lifelong mission is to teach people to appreciate the hardships faced by black Union soldiers.

“We want to teach people what our ancestors did during the Civil War, about how they gave up their lives for that elusive word called freedom,” Price said.

James Simpson, a 49-year-old from Macon, has been bringing his wife and five kids to the festival for as long as he can remember.

“We come every year with lawn chairs and a cooler of sodas and stay all day. It’s not only fun, but it’s a great way to teach my kids something,” he said.

Simpson said he was particularly impressed with the variety of merchandise being sold at this year’s festival.

“I just got me a brand new yard hat,” he said.

Ankur Patel, a junior at Mercer University, said he heard the music from the festival as he was walking down College Street and decided to see what the event was all about.

“It’s pretty amazing to hear all this history. Even though I’m not black, I can appreciate it. It’s important that we all support events like this that teach people history and will change the way they look at things today,” he said.

State colleges, universities hit with furloughs

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By Carl Lewis

Aug. 13, 2009

Public college students in the midstate may experience canceled classes, longer lines at the cafeteria and less one-on-one time with their professors this fall.Picture 5

As part of a new cost-cutting measure approved Wednesday by the Georgia Board of Regents, faculty and staff at Georgia’s colleges and universities will take six furlough days during the upcoming academic year. The measure is expected to save the state $42 million.

“The university system is no more immune from the impacts of this economy than any other organization,” Chancellor Erroll B. Davis said. “There will be impacts, but we will try to keep the impacts on students to a minimum.”

Still, it won’t be easy to cushion all students from the cuts.

At Fort Valley State University, officials will most likely close the campus altogether during the furlough days, spokeswoman Vickie Oldham said.

“Closing down is something we hate to do, but it’s best to do it that way because it saves on energy and utility costs,” Oldham said.

Terrance Smith, FVSU’s vice president of student affairs, said he hopes the university won’t be forced to shut down. If it does, officials will try to schedule closures during days that will impact students the least, he said.

“We’re looking at maybe a day or two during the Thanksgiving holiday or Christmas break,” Smith said.

At Macon State College, classes won’t be canceled, but students could have a harder time scheduling appointments with their academic advisers, spokesman Bill Weaver said.

“We’re hoping the impact upon students will be negligible ... but it is possible that there could be some very minimal time delays in getting seen,” he said.

Weaver said Macon State officials are trying to schedule professors’ days off during weekdays when they don’t teach classes, but plans are still preliminary.

“There’s a lot of things we don’t know yet. Does everybody have to take the same day off? Could we take half days?” Weaver said.

At Middle Georgia College in Cochran, quality of student services will be impacted across the board, President Michael Stoy said.

“It’s going to cause us to stagger our workload, which could cause students to see longer lines at places like the registrar’s office,” Stoy said.

Georgia College & State University hasn’t decided yet how it will implement the furloughs, but university operations will be impacted significantly, Georgia College President Dorothy Leland said.

“Collectively, the furloughs represent the loss of approximately 37,000 people hours during the fiscal year,” Leland said. “Our challenge is to find ways to continue to operate the university effectively and educate its students under these circumstances.”

Leland said she’s confident Georgia College faculty and staff will pull together during these tough times and find creative ways to do as little harm to the university’s 6,600 students as possible.

“Fortunately, the university has a history of people pulling together,” Leland said. “There is a creative, entrepreneurial spirit here. I’m confident we’ll figure it out.”

To contact writer Carl Lewis, call 744-4347.