The History of the
Lansing Juneteenth Committee
The Lansing Juneteenth Celebration began in 1993, from the vision of Gordon Haskins, a long time member of Mask Memorial CME Church who was originally from Douglasville, Texas. Gordon Haskins had a vision that someday the history of Juneteenth would be communicated and celebrated in Lansing, Michigan, as it is celebrated in the state of Texas.
Gordon knew in order for this to happen he would need to seek out individuals with talented organizational skills. He needed someone capable of conducting the research on the history of Juneteenth in order for his vision to come to life. Therefore, he sought the assistance of Debra Plummer. Debra Plummer (a Lansing native), had recently moved back to the Lansing area after living in Milwaukee, WI and Fullerton, CA for more than 15 years. When Gordon asked Debra if she knew what Juneteenth was about, she replied yes. Her knowledge of the celebration came after attending a Juneteenth program in Milwaukee, WI and from several friends living in the south who also celebrate the holiday.
Gordon shared his vision with Debra Plummer and requested her to assist with organizing the first Juneteenth Celebration. This small but robust celebration was held at Mask Memorial CME church. The keynote speaker for the event was from Linden, TX.
After seeing the interest of several individuals and the success of the program Debra put together a committee to conduct more research. The goal of the group was to teach the history of the holiday. The original Juneteenth Committee consisted of the following members from Mask Memorial CME Church:
Gordon Haskins, Debra Plummer, Mary Plummer, Marilyn Plummer, Marsha Plummer, Jim Hughes, Charles Johnson, Jerrye Wynne Scates, Rodney Shepard, Daulton Tansil, Edwin Thompson and Earl Chapman. The pastor of Mask Memorial CME church at that time was Rev. Sterling O. Littlejohn.
The first festivals, (1993-2000) were held on the church grounds of Mask Memorial CME Church. The goal of the committee was to make sure the food, sports, speakers and activities reflected those from the traditional celebrations of 1865.
Due to the increase in attendance and interest in the celebration, the Committee began to look for local parks which could accommodate the celebration. On June 30, 2001 the celebration was moved to the Riverfront Park in downtown Lansing. The 2002-2005 Juneteenth Celebrations were held at Benjamin Davis Park located in South Lansing. In June of 2006 the Lansing Juneteenth Celebration moved to St. Joseph Park where the event is still being celebrated.
During the tenure of Rev. Lyndon B. Ford (July 2002-July 2004), the committee opened membership up to include community representation to serve as committee members. The following individuals requested to be a part of the Juneteenth committee: Julian Van Dyke, Sonya Lewis, Shirley Carter and Diondai Brown-Whitfield.
The current committee consists of members from Mask Memorial and others from throughout community, with several of the original committee members still participating in the event.
In 2004 the committee began operating with two Co-Chairpersons. While Debra continued her education (earning a Master’s Degree), Marilyn Plummer and Rev. A. Richard Doss served as co-chairs from July 2004 until July 2010. In July of 2010 Rev. A. Richard Doss was assigned new pastoral duties in River Rouge, MI. Edwin Thompson is served several years as Co-Chair with Marilyn Plummer. The committee resumed operating with a single chair, with Marilyn Plummer as the head of the Lansing Juneteenth Committee.
One of the greatest accomplishments for the Lansing Juneteenth Committee was when the Juneteenth National Freedom Day legislation was signed into law on June 17, 2005 as P.A. 48. Marilyn Plummer worked diligently on behalf of the Juneteenth Committee along with Rev. A. Richard Doss and Rev. Michael Murphy to make this a reality. “In June, 2005, Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm signed legislation officially designating the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Michigan. Senate Bill 384 (PA 48) was sponsored by Senator Martha G. Scott. Michigan is the 18th state to officially recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.” The motto of the Lansing Juneteenth Committee is “Redefining & Transforming ourselves into the Betterment of the Community". The mission of the Lansing Juneteenth Committee as stated is to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States by celebrating the joys of liberty, educating the community about our heritage and by promoting positive cultural interaction.
Our promotion of positive intercultural interaction through education is embraced by two noteworthy projects. Under the direction of artist Julian Van Dyke, the Juneteenth Coloring and Activity Storybook was published in 2004. The Annual Essay/Scholarship Program encourages young people to learn by researching and writing. This increases the awareness and understanding of the history of Juneteenth at the middle and high school levels. Scholarships are given annually to Middle and High School students who meet the criteria for responding to questions in relation to Juneteenth History. The Juneteenth Education sub-committee plays an integral part in reaching the Middle and High School levels to teach more about the history of Juneteenth.