Events aim to spread awareness of Juneteenth
Standing in front of 100 Houston middle school students visiting the Old Central Cultural Center in Galveston last week, Ennis Williams had two questions for the children.
Do you know what Juneteenth is and why we celebrate Juneteenth?" he asked.
He was greeted with silence.
Most of those kids had not even heard of it," Williams said.
Once Williams started explaining that the annual June 19 state holiday recognizes the emancipation of slaves in Texas, some of the students were somewhat familiar with it through picnics and church celebrations, but knew little about its significance.
Once I explained what they were celebrating, they were very, very excited about it," Williams said.
For Williams, who co-chairs the Galveston Juneteenth Coalition with his wife, Maggie, that experience illustrates the difficulty of educating younger generations about the holiday.
It's not the kids' fault," said Williams, 65. It's our responsibility to get the word out."
Juneteenth commemorates Union Gen. Gordon Granger's reading of a proclamation on June 19, 1865, announcing that slaves were free.
The announcement, believed to have occurred at Ashton Villa in Galveston, came nearly 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 proclaimed freedom for all slaves in the country.
The news didn't reach Texas until Granger's reading on June 19, which is now celebrated as Juneteenth.
Here are some area Juneteenth events:
Galveston: Coalition events to celebrate Juneteenth started Saturday, June 12, and run through Sunday, June 20. They are highlighted on Saturday, June 19, with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and a prayer breakfast at 8:30 a.m. at Ashton Villa, 2328 Broadway. A parade is scheduled at 11 a.m. that day starting at 25th Street and Ave. H near City Hall.
Hitchcock: Historic Stringfellow Orchards in Hitchcock is the site of the fifth annual Juneteenth Family Day. The free event is from 1-6 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at the orchard, 7902 Texas 6, and will include historical enactments. The event also will include performances by comedian "The Golden Child," inflatable rides, snowcones and a dominoes tournament.
La Marque: A free Juneteenth celebration sponsored by Mayor Geraldine Sam and Mayor Pro-Tem Keith Bell is scheduled for noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, at Highland Bayou Park, 1801 Gulf Freeway. it will include a 10 a.m. parade at Carver Park and two stages of music including blues, jazz and gospel.
Texas City: The city is planning Juneteenth events including a golf tournament at noon on Monday, June 14, at Bayou Golf Course, a poetry slam at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Doyle Center, a "Gospelfest" at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 18, and a family day on Saturday, June 19. For more information, call 409-643-5990.
College of the Mainland will celebrate Juneteenth on Wednesday, June 16, with comedian and Houston radio personality Marcus D. Wiley, who will speak on "From Tears to Laughter: Surviving Hard Times." The free program will be held in the college's teaching auditorium (L-131) at 11 a.m. A free lunch will be provided. For more information call 409-938-1211, ext. 205.
Williams, a Galveston native, was raised celebrating Juneteenth in large family gatherings on the city's West End beaches and in local churches.
Now, there's a lot more going on out there," he said. If the family doesn't place an emphasis on the importance of Juneteenth, it gets lost."
There is an effort to make Juneteenth a national holiday. In the past year, Williams said he has received calls about Juneteenth from people as far away as Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle. He believes that making it a national holiday would raise its awareness among youths.
It would give us better pride, dignity and self-worth where all people know now that we're all completely created equal and that we're all in this country as Americans," Williams said. This is our home, America."
La Marque City Councilman Keith Bell said he, too, is concerned that the meaning of Juneteenth is vanishing among youths. Young leaders are also needed to help with the planning of events to educate children about the holiday, he said.
I worry about this being a situation where we're losing a lot of important historical markers and facts that we need to remember so that we don't repeat those horrible, horrible decisions that were made in history," Bell said.
And while Juneteenth is largely not the focus of official celebrations in the Clear Lake area and north Galveston County, Friendswood Mayor David Smith is respectful of the holiday.
It's a cultural aspect that is important for all of us to pay attention to," Smith said. It really speaks to the strengths of our country, which is diversification."
For information about the Galveston Juneteenth Coalition's events, visit http://www.galveston.com/2010juneteenthevents/
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