The annual Juneteenth Celebration will be held this Saturday, June 17, from noon to 4 p.m. at Brandon Park. What exactly is this holiday and event that celebrates African American history and heritage?
This holiday commemorates the emancipation of enslaved blacks in the United States. This holiday was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger arrived to give the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed in 1863, as well as news of the end of the Civil War, two months earlier. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves and continued slavery in such states as Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri. All slaves were not truly free until the ratification of the 13th Amendment, some six months later.
The name “Juneteenth” refers to the date of the holiday, combining the words the date “June” and the date of the first celebration. The holiday was first celebrated in Austin, Texas, in 1867 under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau, and it had been listed on a calendar of events in 1872. That year black leaders in Texas raised $1,000 for the purchase of 10 acres of land, today known as Houston’s Emancipation Park, to celebrate Juneteenth.
Juneteenth continues to be celebrated across the U.S. — black Americans come together in the spirit of unity, and they pay homage to their ancestors and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that they can live free and enjoy the pursuit of happiness and liberty.
Here in Williamsport, according to Lisa Williams, President of the local chapter of the NAACP, the event has been celebrated off and on for the past 20 years or so. The local celebrations began under the leadership of Constance Robinson, who was the recipient of the Lycoming Tri-County Legendary Award in 2022. The local NAACP chapter began hosting Juneteenth in 2021 with generous donations from their sponsors, and Williams believed they were able to host a successful event; it was also the year the federal government recognized Juneteenth as a national holiday.
“For Juneteenth 2023, our theme is ‘Strengthening Our Roots to Empower Future Generations.’ The Tri-County NAACP is working in collaboration with the STEP Justice Task Force,” Williams told Webb Weekly. She continued, “There will be a March from Freedom Road to Brandon Park beginning at 11 a.m. that will fold into the activities in the Park beginning at noon.”
She said there will be various vendors participating in the event. Each organization participating in the Juneteenth event will have a fun activity for children. There will also be live entertainment from Loni Gamble and the Ultimates and others such as Tomaka Carter, Felicia Suggs, Jordan Golding, and Jeneen Hammond.
“In essence, Juneteenth is a celebration of love, honoring those who came before us and those yet to be born. It is a tradition that has been celebrated for over 150 years. It’s about pride in who we are and how far we have come and honoring our ancestors so that our children can stand tall in their truth and understand they come from greatness. Black Americans have made many strides and contributed so much to the United States. However, we are still striving to achieve the ultimate goal — not to be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character,” stated Williams.