Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in America, has long been cherished by many families in obituaries on Legacy.com. Today we honor some of the remarkable lives that have been remembered all around the country in tributes citing Juneteenth as a source of precious memories and community togetherness.
NaTalia Johnson (1983-2021) was “an internationally acclaimed prima ballerina from Lubbock, TX. Johnson was the artistic director of the Sacramento-based Natalia Johnson Conservatory of Ballet and taught kindergarten and 1st-grade students in Sacramento. … Along with her ballet school located in Sacramento’s Historic Oak Park Community, she started the Sacramento Royalettes, a Majorette, cheer, and baton team; Feats of Praise, her Praise Dance Company; and created, staged and choreographed Juneteenth the Ballet.” Read her full obituary here.
Gerald R. Carter (1953-2020) “enjoyed helping others and his passion was serving in his community. This was evident by the many lives he touched through organizing and bringing the Juneteenth Festival, the ‘Collard Green Cook-off’ and the African United Front to the Akron area.” Read his full obituary here.
Dorothy Lene Benson-Brown (1937-2018) was a community leader in the celebration of Juneteenth: “She founded Black Awareness Days and brought the celebration of Juneteenth back to South Texas from 1975 until 1985, Dorothy became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1985.” Read her full obituary here.
Albert Edwards Sr. (1937-2020) was the legislator from Houston who helped lead Texas to become the first state in the U.S. to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. “In 1979, legislation recognizing Juneteenth Day was initiated by Edwards and passed the Texas State Legislature. In 1995, he joined the Democratic National Committee board and served as National Vice Chairman of the DNC Black Caucus for 10 years and went on to serve as National Chairman of the DNC Black Caucus for 6 years. Edwards served 26 years as a State Legislator in District 146.” Read his full obituary here.
Patricia Whitsett Fortune (1939-2021): “As an entrepreneur and community leader, Pat was a founding member of Ujamaa Merchants United, Inc. (UMU), a non-profit networking organization of African American entrepreneurs from the Triad area. Wanting to give back to the community, Pat suggested hosting a Juneteenth Festival. It was held on Father’s Day, June 19th 1996, establishing Greensboro’s first Juneteenth Festival. As a result, that endeavor helped to launch other Juneteenth celebrations in Winston-Salem, Asheboro and throughout North Carolina. Pat was appointed as the N.C. State Director for the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage (NAJL) and to their Executive Board of Directors. In collaboration with Lula Briggs-Galloway, then the President of NAJL, Pat helped to create the guidelines for ‘How to Start a Juneteenth Festival.’” Read her full obituary here.
Claudia Oleathea Bowens (1945-2020) was dedicated to her African heritage: “Claudia, better known as ‘CoCo,’ continued to share her love and kindness with all those that were blessed enough to engage with this spirited soul grounded in her roots from Africa. Her name ‘CoCo,’ she adopted from the native Swahili language which means grandmother. It wasn’t long, before all who met her, she became CoCo to them as well. She was sure to involve her children and grandchildren actively as she participated in the community and embraced her heritage. Some of their fondest memories can trace back to attending African Liberation Day, Kwanza or Juneteenth, just to name a few.” Read her full obituary here.
Wendell Harding Butler (1924-2020) “lived by a simple mantra. ‘I can do it!’ He often said if he wanted to do it, he could. That philosophy transcended throughout his life. At the youthful age of 15, he graduated from high school in Carthage, Texas, and enrolled in Prairie View College. He decided that he wanted to be a dentist, so he applied to the University of Texas (despite it being a segregated University at the time); because ‘I can do it!’ He was denied entry. However, Texas University helped facilitate a full scholarship to Howard University. ‘I can do it.’ It was at Howard that he met the love of his life, Susie Evelyn Sparrow. They were married for over 71 years. ‘I can do it!’ … Wendell Butler loved to reflect on biographical and historical memories that are beloved by so many…one notable is Juneteenth.” Read his full obituary here.
Margie Sayles Callis (1929-2020) “had her first job at 13 years old, where she earned $1.25 per week. From those earnings, she was able to buy Juneteenth outfits for herself and her younger sister. Whether she was working as a babysitter, a theater ticket agent or a waitress at the local café, she served up a warm smile and a savviness well beyond her years. …Rarely idle, Margie was always there for those in need. She was an excellent cook who grew her own vegetables and picked her own dewberries to make her homemade dewberry pie with homemade lattice crust. Her family could always count on her to be a shining example of love and benevolence.” Read her full obituary here.
Bettie J. Bellamy (1937-2021) “served her community as an avid volunteer for numerous organizations including 1st Vice President of Staten Island’s chapter of the NAACP, Chairwoman of the Evelyn Marshall Scholarship Association. She was also a member of the National Council of Negro Women, Staten Island chapter and The Purple Hats Society and affiliated with the Staten Island League for Better Government. Over the years, thorough her many volunteer efforts, Mrs. Bellamy helped to raise thousands of dollars in college scholarships. Mrs. Bellamy, a devout Christian, was a past member of First Church of God in Christ. Mrs. Bellamy joined St. Phillips Baptist Church where she served on the Missionary Board and worked with Pastor Tony Baker to launch the church’s annual Juneteenth Celebration.” Read her full obituary here.