From press reports
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas. He brought news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free. It had been two and a half years since President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 was official. Many stories were told as to why they had not known but none could be verified as the truth.
The reactions to this profound news ranged from shock to jubilation. Freed slaves had several options: Remain and develop new relationships with their former owners or leave immediately, depending upon the conditions on the plantations. They could go north which was a logical destination or find family members in neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Festivals and Food Celebrations
Freedom from slavery was cause for celebrations and all sorts of activities were started with many continuing as traditions across the nation today. June 19th was shortened to “Juneteenth”. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball games are a few of the typical Juneteenth activities witnessed today. Juneteenth almost always focuses on education and self-improvement. Speakers, elders, elected officials/candidates for office and ordinary community residents are part of the programs. In larger cities, the day is actually celebrated on the 19th with time off for work. Parades, bands, professional entertainers and politicians participate and whole blocks are closed to traffic.
Certain foods became popular and synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations. A variety of foods and beverages was always provided but specialties such as lamb, pork and beef were cooked for this special day. Even dress was an important element in the early Juneteenth customs because in some areas, there were laws that prohibited or limited the proper dressing of slaves. Thus, Juneteenth gave ex-slaves the chance to toss their ragged garments and to adorn more fitting and stylish clothing, often taken from their former “masters”.
The Winston County Voters League, under the presidency of Claudell Weaver introduced Juneteenth Day in June 1984 very near the actual June 19th day on the League grounds at 307 Vance Street. After several years of success, it was moved a few blocks to Vance Street Park near the old projects. Under the presidency of Calvin Hampton, the festival moved to Dean Park where it continues to be celebrated and promoted as fun-filled family day.
The choices of foods presented at Juneteenth Day celebrations are limited only by the imagination of the vendor. As you walk leisurely among the vendors, you will find barbeque meats, fried fish, grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, polish, bratwurst, hot chicken wings, home-made ice cream, snow cones or icees, roasted corn, nachos and cheese, assorted baked goods and beverages…..all deliciously prepared to fill your hunger and to quench your thirst.
Local entertainers will perform their talents of poetry, rap, and solos/duets and of course, music of every kind by D.J. “Jump”. Brown Sugar Band will perform at 1:30. Asia Eichelberger lends her beautiful voice with a song and Montana Eichelberger will perform a dance routine.
Games for children include balloon and egg toss, sack races, hula hoop contests and jumper games will help to keep them safely and physically entertained. Cake walks will be played throughout the day for 50 cent. Door prizes will be awarded hourly but you must be present to win.
Don’t forget to get your raffle ticket…a $1.00 donation gives you the chance to win $100.00, $75.00 or $50.00. Door prize tickets are free and offer you an opportunity to win a gift from our local businesses or League members. Both tickets are at the Voters League tent or from sellers roaming the grounds. Information about the history of the League, its activities and how you can become a member and an informed voter will also be available in an easy to read pamphlet.
Dean Park Improvements
Improving conditions and maintenance of the park became a project of the League. Contributions of labor and funds by League members and the Starkville Alternative School students with Mr. Calvin Hampton led to repairs to the bleachers, painted trash cans and clean-up of the grounds. Each year, requests were made to the board of supervisors to prepare the park for Juneteenth.
The League later learned about the Dean Park Commissioners, and a caretaker, who are appointed by the supervisors to oversee the park. Claudell Weaver was appointed to a vacancy in District 2 by Supervisor Bob Goodin. The commissioners met infrequently, asserting little power and the appearance and upkeep of the park slowly declined over time. Over, the years, as retirements and deaths occurred, Jack Miller, Anthony Triplett, Thurman Eichelberger and Orbizine Hoskin joined Weaver as commissioners. Obtaining documents on the history of the park led to the commissioners recognizing the responsibilities assigned to them. They became more proactive and involved in the daily operation of improving the appearance and use of Dean Park.
Commissioners are pleased to announce the completion of a Unisex restroom near the pavilion that will be an aide to disabled, handicapped and senior visitors at the park. A planned ribbon cutting will be part of the Juneteenth Day Festival with commissioners and public officials invited. Additionally, upgrades to the electrical outlets are being made that will allow full use of the pavilion without power outtages.
The Friends of Dean Park, INC, work faithfully to make the park more beautiful with planted trees, flowers and bushes. A community garden and water fountain near the pavilion was the result of a grant they received. Visit the Friends in the concession stand to make a purchase; stop at their tent display and make a donation and join for only $10.00 a year. The FODP tent is tendered by the oldest member, Mrs. Betsy Eichelberger who continues to encourage support and membership. Become a part of keeping Dean Park beautiful and helping to purchase additional playground equipment and supplies for the upkeep of the landscaped areas throughout the park.
Please plan to attend the 29th Juneteenth Day Festival and the 150th Commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation on June 1, from 11am until 5pm at Dean Park in the Center Ridge Community on Hwy 15 S. Your support by purchasing from the vendors encourages them to return yearly and to support the League. For more information, contact booth chair Janice Hopkins at 773-7743 or 705-2019 and entertainment chair Claudell Weaver at 773-9414 or 736-2150.
Submitted by Claudell Weaver