Legacy, history at heart of Sewickley's Juneteenth celebration

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Growing up on a farm in Iowa, with the closest neighbors two miles away, Wayne Murphy learned the value of hard work.

He gathered eggs at age 7 and cleaned chicken coops at 8. His family had no indoor plumbing and education took place in a one-room country school house, all memories he looks back on today as gifts his parents gave him — and experiences he'd like to pass onto his two grandchildren.

“Work and chores was a part of life,” said Murphy, who is mayor of Edgeworth “I certainly want our children and grandchildren to know a little bit of the background.”

Murphy joined a seven-member panel discussion, “Legacy, What will be Ours?” that took place on Saturday in the Sewickley Community Center, in conjunction with a two-day Juneteenth celebration. Juneteenth honors a series of events in 1865 beginning when Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops announced that enslaved men and women were freed.

Like Murphy, participants brought a distinct perspective to the dialogue, where everyone had the same consensus: Teaching children and grandchildren about their legacy is a must.

“It starts with the seed we put in the ground,” said panelist Shon Owens, coordinator of the Aliquippa Men and Fathers and Fatherhood Initiative of Beaver County. “We think 1-year-old, 2-year-old is too early to begin to teach them. It's not too early.”

The two-hour conversation served as one of the main highlights of Sewickley's fifth annual Juneteenth event, which on Saturday included a free swim, a tennis clinic and a dedication ceremony for the center's newly renovated gymnasium.

Autumn Redcross, chairwoman and organizer, said she enjoyed seeing the planning come to fruition.

“My hope is always that we can walk away from an event like this as a better person,” Redcross said.

Sewickley native Bonita Lee Penn, head writer of SoulPitt magazine, served as moderator of the discussion. Other panelists included Sewickley resident Suzanne Rideout; Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society member Alan Milliner; Quaker Valley Democratic Committee Vice Chairman Otis McAliley; 2014 Quaker Valley graduate Addison Gould; and artist and educator Betty Asche Douglas.

“Our legacy is our roots. No plant can grow without its roots, and no child can grow without being rooted in something,” said Douglas, who grew up in Beaver Falls during segregation. The Sewickley American Legion was started because blacks couldn't join the white legion. Blacks couldn't swim at local swimming pools, couldn't join Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Douglas said her parents became the first black troop leaders and started their own scout groups. She was the first black teacher in Rochester. “A branch can go this way and that, but it can't leave behind what it comes from.”

Owens said he remembers sitting on his grandmother's Damascus, Ga., porch and listening to her stories. She was a sharecropper born to a slave. He never had the chance to meet his grandfather, who died before he was born, but his grandmother, who died at age 106, made sure they knew the stories, he said.

“My legacy, what it means to me, is what my grandmother often told me on her porch,” said Owens, of Center Township. “... so I know and am sure of who I am.”

Larissa Dudkiewicz is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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