Tuesday was a celebration of heritage. It was also a day to commemorate the efforts of three civic leaders who did much more than acquire land or construct a basketball court at Lee Penn Park.
George Brown, James Waters, and Bill Lacy “are three men who had a tremendous, tremendous impact on this community," said Jesse Gibson, who emceed the dedication of a granite monument in their honor to more than 50 community members.
“We are here today to celebrate two very, very significant events," he continued. "One is recognizing the Emancipation Proclamation, and one is honoring men who very deeply influenced our society.”
As he stood behind the lectern just a few steps from a still-to-be-unveiled monument with a sky full of sunshine above, Gibson gave a brief history lesson on origins of Juneteenth.
He began by telling the crowd that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation Sept. 22, 1862, and ordered it into effect Jan. 1, 1863. However, Texas and its residents did not learn of the act until June 19, 1885.
Gibson added this was due to the ongoing Civil War and because “social media had not been created yet," which drew laughter from the crowd.
He then told the crowd it was not until Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in the port at Galveston with 2,000 soldiers and read General Order No. 3 that more than 250,000 Texas slaves had been freed.
The date, June 19, has been celebrated since, officially becoming a state holiday in 1979. It is now recognized in 39 states and the District of Columbia, according to a previous Daily Light article.
Vivian Gibson and Barabar Turner then read a poem “in memory of the men who gave so much to this community.” It focused on untiring efforts, loyalty and sincerity of Brown, Waters, and Lacy.
Members of trio's family then took turns to speak on behalf of the three men.
Dorthy Brown, the wife of George Brown, thanked the committee and admitted she had not prepared a speech. She did, however, mention her love for the community and that her family is honored by the monument.
Billy Waters, the son of James Waters, said, “my father, he loved this park.” Billy recalled playing baseball with his father every day except for Wednesdays and Sundays — because those days were meant for church. “He was a big talker, and he loved everybody, and everybody loved him," Billy continued. "I just hope that I can be half the man he was.”
The son of Bill Lacy, Glenn, also spoke and said the memorial is "something big to us and our family.”
“I just wish I could dance as good as him, dress as good as him or sing as well as him," Glenn continued. “[...] Thank you for loving my dad...we just appreciate it.”
Chuck Beatty then spoke and noted the Waxahachie City Council passed phase two of the Penn Park revitalization during Monday's meeting. The next step will include a football field, new bathrooms, and lights. He also recalled times during his childhood playing baseball and football as a kid in the park.
Though he did not mention it, it's hard to believe Beatty's love for the game of football, which carried him into a four-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Cardinals, began anywhere other than the grass fields at Lee Penn Park.
Beatty then read the inscription on the front of the monument that families will see as they walk from the basketball court toward the covered pavilion.
The etching begins with the history of Penn Park, which was a little smaller than the 22 acres it is now when donated by the Lee Penn family to the City of Waxahachie to establish a park for the Black community. The park was formally dedicated in 1936. The city and Waxahachie ISD later donated the surrounding land to increase the park's footprint.
"Many organizations and individuals demonstrated vision, commitment and support for Penn Park," Beatty read. "Chiefly among the organizations were the Regular Fellows Social Club and the Royal Art and Charity Social Club. Primarily among the individuals were George Brown, James Waters and Bill Lacy.
"Largely through the generosity of these groups an abandoned building was relocated to the park in the early 50s. It served as a youth center until it was destroyed by fire in 2013. This same group of supporters constructed a basketball court in the mid-50s that existed until 2017.
"Lee Penn Park served as a venue for all sizable community recreational activities and festive occasions until the early 60s. After which time, local customs changed and federal laws allowed for the sponsoring of such events beyond the borders of the Black community."
Members of the Penn Park action committee were also recognized during the event to a round of applause. Though not all were present, the committee consisted of Jesse Gibson, Vivian Gibson, James Page, Rosie Spain, Shelia McGruder, Chick Beaty, Rev. Myron Goins, and Tim Jay, with several others contributing along the way.
Mayor Kevin Strength, as well as members of the Waxahachie Police and Fire Departments and various Waxahachie city employees and council members, were also present.
The dedication was held in conjunction with the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People local chapter 6240 and the City of Waxahachie. The park is located at 404 Getzendaner Street in Waxahachie.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith