Oakland County’s Juneteenth Event Spotlights Underground Railroad

Post Date:06/06/2024 1:18 PM


  • Oakland County has four official Underground Railroad sites: Birmingham, Farmington, Royal Oak, and Southfield with a local historian advocating for a fifth in Pontiac.
  • Juneteenth festivities are open to the public and will run from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12 near the south entrance of the Oakland County Circuit Court building at 1200 N. Telegraph Road in Pontiac.
  • Speakers include County Executive Dave Coulter, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Oakland County Commissioners Angela Powell, Yolanda Smith-Charles, and Linnie Taylor.

Pontiac, Mich. ­–  The Underground Railroad, a secret network of people and safe places used by enslaved Black people to escape to freedom, is the focus of Oakland County’s second annual Juneteenth celebration on Wednesday, June 12 on the south side of the county’s Circuit Court building in Pontiac.

The public and news media are invited to attend the ceremony, which will culminate in the raising of the Juneteenth flag, to mark the official end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.

Carol Bacak-Egbo, historian for Oakland County Parks and Recreation, will weave together the story of the Parker family who escaped slavery from Wood County, Va. They used the Underground Railroad to make the dangerous trek to freedom, concluding in Pontiac. The Parkers were founding members of the Newman African Methodist Episcopal Church and are buried in unmarked graves in Oak Hill Cemetery, which is highlighted on a keepsake card featuring the family’s story that will be handed out during the event.

“Juneteenth is a powerful reminder of the struggle for freedom and equality, and this year’s celebration in Oakland County will highlight the courageous efforts of the Underground Railroad, including its significant stops within our community,” County Executive Dave Coulter said. “Together, we honor the legacy of those who sought liberty and those who aided in their journey to freedom.”

Joining Coulter during the festivities will be Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson; Oakland County Commissioners Angela Powell, Yolanda Smith-Charles, and Linnie Taylor; Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer Harry Weaver; and Sheriff’s Office Capt. Melissa McClellan.

“It’s an honor to once again be part of the county’s celebration of our community, culture, history and dedication to moving forward,” Powell said. “Juneteenth is a new holiday for some, and I look forward to taking part in an event that recognizes the experiences that form Oakland County and create a vibrant place to call home.”

Oakland County has four sites that are part of the National Parks Service’s “Network to Freedom,” which features fully-documented historic locations connected to the Underground Railroad:

  • Abolitionist Elijah S. Fish and freedom-seeker George B. Taylor burial sites at Greenwood Cemetery in Birmingham
  • Abolitionist Nathan Power burial site at the Quaker Cemetery in Farmington
  • Freedom-seekers Henry and Elizabeth Hamer’s final resting place in Royal Oak Cemetery
  • Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church, which was committed to the anti-slavery cause, abolitionism, and aiding formerly enslaved persons on their journey to Canada

Bacak-Egbo is working with the Oakland History Center and other local historians to nominate Pontiac’s Oak Hill Cemetery to be the fifth Oakland County “Network to Freedom” location.

New this year, donations may be dropped off to support Forgotten Harvest to assist in providing families in our local community with fresh and nutritious food free of charge. Items include nutritious snacks – dried fruits, nuts, trail mix and granola bars, pasta, canned soup, peanut butter, and more. A full listing can be found on our website.

Entertainers will include a choir, drummers and dancers, and storytellers. Attendees can experience diverse and sumptuous flavors from around the world with food trucks including Fork in Nigeria, Seoul Rolls on the Go, and Flavors of Jamaica.

Oakland County’s Juneteenth event will run from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on June 12 by the south entrance of the court building at 1200 N. Telegraph Road in Pontiac. The formal program begins at noon. Parking is available in the lot off County Center Drive East between the courthouse and Telegraph.