In Columbus and Starkville, festivities, events and celebrations are in the works to observe Juneteenth.
The annual Juneteenth Festival will return to Columbus with activities and entertainment for its 25th anniversary.
Leroy Brooks, District 5 Lowndes County supervisor, and county Emergency Management Agency director Cindy Lawrence founded the festival 26 years ago with only a flatbed trailer and a DJ. The only break from the annual event came during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The thinking was to add another cultural event in the community that would be indigenous to African American history,” Brooks said.
This year’s celebration will kick off Friday with the first-ever Juneteenth Freedom Ball at Trotter Convention Center starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 each or $100 for a table, the equivalent of eight tickets. Food will be provided alongside music by Artistik Band and Show and DJ Ejay.
The festivities continue into the following week with events June 14-18.
A Black Business Networking Reception will be held June 14 at Rosenzweig Center from 6 to 8 p.m. It will include an oral presentation on the African American experience in Columbus, accompanied by Jamaican bongo drum storyteller Terrence Lawrence.
“This is a way to reach out to the Black businesses to say thank you for what they have done in the community,” Brooks said.
Following behind the reception, a Youth Day will be held in Sim Scott Park from noon to 3 p.m. June 15. Food will be provided as well as inflatables and activities for children.
On June 17, the 25th annual Juneteenth Festival will begin in earnest with activities, food and entertainment. Gates will open to the public at 6 p.m. at Sim Scott Park with free admission. Music will be provided by DJ Lovebone before The Crossroad Band takes the stage at 8 p.m.
The Juneteenth Parade will begin at 10 a.m. June 18 from the Hitching Lot Farmers’ Market and continue down Main Street before reaching the Columbus Municipal Complex. After the parade, the festival will continue with food and music by DJ Lovebone until various entertainment takes the stage at 5 p.m. — including Alfonso Bowen, the Crowns of Joy, the JOUS Band and Show, Kenne’ Wayne Band and Show and Willie Clayton Band and Show.
Juneteenth, short for June 19, marks the day in 1865 more than 250,000 enslaved individuals were freed in Texas, the last state in the Confederacy to have institutional slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, it wasn’t until 1865 that Union troops were able to deliver the message and enforce the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans across Texas.
After 1865, Juneteenth was celebrated mainly in Texas, but over the following century it grew into a holiday that was celebrated nationwide. Historically, observation of Juneteenth has been marked by celebrations of African American culture, progress and traditions.
As of June 2021, Juneteenth is a federal holiday. It is the first holiday to be designated as a federal holiday since the introduction of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Oktibbeha County residents will also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of Juneteenth events. The StarkVegas Juneteenth Committee for Unity has organized a five-day celebration June 16-20.
Yulanda Haddix and Frank Nichols have led the event’s organizing. Haddix said this is the largest Juneteenth celebration in the area to date.
“We got together and said, ‘What can we do to change this community and make sure we can bridge the gap and bring unity?’” Haddix said of the organizing committee.
Attendees will have the chance to enjoy a variety of events and activities including a Sip and Paint, a Food Truck Festival, a Unity 5K Run/Walk, a gospel festival, a stage play and much more. There will also be youth focused events such as the Boys to Men Life Skills Academy.
“It is the mission of the StarkVegas Juneteenth Committee for Unity to bring our community together to celebrate our common bond of freedom through the recognition, observance, education and historic preservation of Juneteenth in America,” Haddix said, sharing the committee’s mission statement.
“Kids Day” will be June 17, as well as a NAACP community forum at the Travis Outlaw Center that will begin at 11 a.m.
Starkville Area Arts Council is hosting a Juneteenth celebration art competition from 4 to 5:30 p.m. that day at the J.L. King Center focusing on the topic, “What is the meaning of Juneteenth?”
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