“Freedom: From Slavery to Celebration”
This year marks the 150th anniversary celebrating the freeing of slaves in America. On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are and hence forward shall be free”. However, it took two years until word reached Texas and longer for people in other states to learn about the announcement. General Gordon Granger, supported by nearly 2,000 troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to make the announcement. That day is now known as “Juneteenth”, which is a combination of two words “June” and “nineteenth”.
After 1865 celebrations to remember this historic event took place around rivers and church grounds. As years past, activities like rodeos, fishing, bar-b-cuing, baseball and others were added. Favorite foods often eaten at “Juneteenth” events were strawberry soda, lamb, pork and beef. Education and self- improvement were essential to the festivities. Guest speakers and elders reminded people about the past in their speeches and prayers.
During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s there was a resurgence of interest in “Juneteenth” celebrations. In 1980, Texas named it an official state holiday.
Prior to 1995 Junction City, Fort Riley and Manhattan communities held combined “Juneteenth” celebrations. Al Hope, who worked in the Human Resources Department for the City of Junction City collaborated with Delilah Hamilton to establish Junction City’s own celebration. In September 1995 plans were made to expand the concept to recognize the diversity in Junction City with an “International Day” in combination with “Juneteenth”. However, one year later “Juneteenth” was moved back to the second Saturday in June to avoid conflict with Manhattan’s celebration. The focus was also changed to be less on the different cultures, but more on the celebration of the freedom of African-Americans.
Al Hope left the area in 1995 and Joniece Pitts took over the leadership of organizing the “Juneteenth” celebrations in Junction City. Joniece and others expanded the event to not only having speakers and food items available, but included an essay contest, parade, dancing, choirs singing and an essay contest to select a recipient for a St. Xavier’s and/or Junction City High School graduate to receive post high school training.
The Junction City “Juneteenth” celebrations have been held in a variety of locations. Some of them included the 12th Street Community Center, Hammond Park, Cleary Park and most recently Heritage Park.
During twenty-one years of celebrations held in Junction City, leaders within the Junction City Juneteenth Community Association have had events co-sponsored by the Kansas Native Plant Society and Prairie Heritage, Inc., Kansas State University Dairy Department, and the Junction City Police Department (movie night). Margy Stewart and Ron Young with Prairie Heritage, Inc. has provided other opportunities for those interested to learn more about the Tall Grass Prairie, wildflowers and star gazing at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge on Lower McDowell Creek Road.
This year’s sponsors include; Eagle Communications, Armed Forces Bank, The Daily Union, Advanced Call Center Technologies (ACT), New Directions, Fraternal Order of Eagles Aux. #830, Corvias Housing Group, HardStyle Teddy (Kickboxing and Martial Arts), Sunflower Bank, Central National Bank, Exchange Bank, Millennium Bank, Kaw Valley Engineering, Inc., The Grove, Screen Machine, Jack & Dicks Pawn Shop, Bayer Construction Co. Inc., Jim Clark Chevrolet, Second Missionary Baptist Church, Bruce McMillan, AIA, Architects, P.A., Bramlage Family Foundation, St. Tabitha Chapter #75 OES, Courtyard by Marriott, Candlewood Suites, Dick Edwards Auto Plaza, Open Door Community House, Walmart Store #43, Aaron's Furniture, Foster Cuts, Junction City Abstract & Title Co. Inc., and Footlocker.
The 2016 “Juneteenth” festival in Junction City celebrates its 21st year and will be held with events and activities on three different days. on June 10th a Movie Night in the park sponsored by Junction City Police Department featuring the movie Big Hero 6 with free admission and free popcorn; on June 11th the festival at Heritage Park from 11:00 am-5:00 pm in Heritage Park with the headliner band, “The Just Us” band from Wichita, KS. Other activities include The Kansas City Marching Cobras, The First ID Band from Fort Riley, a jazz trio from Kansas State University, gospel music, praise dancers, games, bouncy houses, kickboxing demonstrations, historical displays, and more. The main speaker is Kansas State University's Assistant Vice President of Public Safety/Chief Ronnie Grice. Admission is free.
One hundred fifty years later, the premise of celebrating the freeing of slaves continues. It is important to remember our past, but maintaining our freedom and appreciation for others still takes work on the part of each of us.
Donations for the Junction City Juneteenth Community Association may be gifted at the upcoming events or by mail at Junction City Juneteenth Community Association 222 Navajo Drive, Junction City, Kansas 66441.
Visit the Museum Tuesday through Sundays from 1:00 to 4:00 PM to learn more about the history of Geary County.
Dr. Ferrell Miller is a member of the Board of Directors at the Geary County Historical Society.
The Juneteenth Committee members in the photo (from left to right)
Shantelle Means, Secretary
Robert Bailey, Parliamentarian
Janet Bailey, Member
Deliliah Hamilton, Treasurer
Yolanda W. Phelps, Public Relations
Valerie Guy, Advertising/Marketing
Kevin Godwin, Member
Dr. Crystal J. Davis, Fundraising
Nicholas Allbritton, Member
James Sands, President