The June 19 festivities kicked off in Brazos County on Wednesday morning at the Lincoln Recreation Center with storyteller Toni Simmons’ “Dancing for Freedom” presentation.
The 20th annual celebration, which was organized in partnership between the Education Department of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the City of College Station, began at 9 a.m. with a freedom march near the recreation center. Attendees, who ranged from elementary school students to retirees and from all walks of life, continued into the facility’s gymnasium for Simmons’ presentation.
Simmons included stories from Africa and Louisiana, inviting audiences of children and adults to dance, sing, clap and sing along with her.
After several stories featuring animals, she set the scene to discuss Juneteenth: “It started off as an ordinary day, a hot day, working in the hot sun, taking orders from their owner, picking the cotton.”
On June 19, 1865, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War, Major General Gordon Granger and Union troops arrived in Galveston to announce the end of the Civil War and declare: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation of the Executive Branch of the United States, all slaves are free.
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“They couldn’t believe it,” she said. “They were screaming. They were singing. They were dancing. ‘Finally free! Finally free! Come celebrate; we are finally free. … It was really a day of jubilation. Freedom had finally come.
Simmons explained how the Underground Railroad led north and also south into Mexico.
Texas was the first state to make emancipation a holiday, and Juneteenth became a federal holiday a year ago.
Simmons ended his presentation by leading the crowd in a dance to Jon Batiste’s GRAMMY Award-winning song “Freedom.”
When she asked the audience for a word to describe freedom, students gave her answers such as “independence”, “joy” and “happiness”.
“Even though we’re starting early today, be sure to talk to someone about Juneteenth and what it means to have this freedom,” Simmons said.
Lincoln Recreation Center supervisor Cheletia Johnson said June 19 is something that should be celebrated, saying its importance should never be forgotten.
“It’s about freedom and jubilation,” she said. “Imagine finding out two years later that you were free. This is something very important, not just for the African-American community, but for the American community to celebrate. Celebrating freedom, our choices, the right to have certain freedoms, the right to celebrate our religions, our ethnicity, it’s a matter of freedom and family.
Johnson said the walk was the idea of former Lincoln Recreation Center director Lance Jackson, who started it with just center attendees walking to the Bush Library and Museum, and expanded it. To the whole community.
She said this year’s march was to be celebrated as College Station Mayor Karl Mooney and members of the city’s leadership joined in the park next to the center.
Mariah Debose, a senior from Rudder High School and a volunteer junior teacher this summer at the Bush Library and Museum, said she enjoyed the day.
“I really like it,” she said. “Me being multiracial, it’s really a good experience, and then I want to be a social worker when I’m older, so working with children is incredible for me.”
Veronica Rios, co-coordinator of the Bush Library’s summer youth program, said the community had the opportunity to learn about heritage, celebrate progress and learn what is needed. do more to support each other.
“Even as a Hispanic, I learned a lot because I don’t know my involvement in the story either,” she said. “Each different culture can learn from each other.”
The range of attendees also showed that it’s never too early or too late to learn about the culture, she said.
“It brings everyone together and has this mutual bond of wanting to learn and wanting to understand,” Rios said.
Johnson said she was “thrilled” to be able to serve the community during June 19 and throughout the year.
“I’m grateful to have a goal, and I see my goal, and to celebrate that goal with other people,” she said. “I’m very grateful for that. I am blessed.”
The Lincoln Recreation Center will host its Freedom Jamboree from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the WA Tarrow Pavilion in the center at 1000 Eleanor Street in College Station. It will also host a Starlight Musical Series on Saturday at the Wolf Pen Creek Amphitheater.
Other June 19 celebrations in Bryan will be hosted by the Brazos Valley African American Heritage and Cultural Society. A Gospel Fest will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Neal Recreation Center; a parade will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday and will follow Martin Luther King Jr. Street from Muckelroy Street to Sadie Thomas Park where games and activities will continue until 3 p.m.; a blues festival will be held in downtown Bryan at 6 p.m.