Residents gather at Douglass Park for annual Juneteenth celebration

Saturday, June 21, 2008 | 6:48 p.m. CDT; updated 8:49 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Pamela Johnson holds granddaughters Aniya Frazer, 3, and Tyra Robertson, 1, while Leesha Jones barbecues some chicken at the Juneteenth celebration at Douglass Park on Saturday. Jones ran a raffle for Covenant Partners, an organization that provides support for women getting out of prison and trying to start over.

COLUMBIA — Wanda Cason sat underneath a shade tree in Douglass Park to avoid the sun’s heat bearing down on her back.

“When is Chump Change performing?” Cason asked James Smith, a member of Big “Babe” Martin and the Chump Change Band.


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Smith turned his head and gave his response in a slow, steady cadence punctuated by a wry chuckle.

“When the sun bows down behind that tree, that’s when we will be playing,” Smith said. “We’re closer to 50 than we are 60 and that’s stroke age. We can’t be out in the sun that long.”

Cason was among many residents at Douglass Park on Saturday taking part in Columbia’s 22nd annual Juneteenth Celebration.

The huge commemoration dates back over 100 years. Its history traces back to Galveston, Texas, where on June 19, 1865, slaves on the narrow strip of land along the Gulf of Mexico celebrated after hearing word of their freedom — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

In 1866, Juneteenth had become a nation-wide celebration, and on January 2, 1980, Texas state legislator Al Edwards made a special effort to have this historic day recognized as an official state holiday.

While it is not an official holiday in Missouri, the festivities at Douglass mirrored those of family picnics on days of remembrance such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.

Music was blaring, food was cooking and children and adults alike left their homes to enjoy the company of their friends and family.

“I just love the music and the gatherings and the people,” said Gary Kahle. “The fun times, it’s uplifting for the spirit and good for the soul.”

As residents lounged in the park listening to the jazz tunes over the speakers, booths were being set up by church members, supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Aids Awareness advocates.

Other activities included musical performances, a 30 and over talent show, and a music performances by Big Babe Martin and the Chump Change Band.

In light of celebration and togetherness, Columbia Parks and Recreation Specialist Bill Thompson hoped this event would make the community aware of the positivity Douglass Park has to offer.

“We’re trying to get people to enjoy the park,” Thompson said. “Hopefully getting people to come out and do things will help some of the negative things that people are saying about the park.”

For Columbia’s former Parks and Recreation Supervisor, Wynna Faye Elbert, the day was mostly a celebration of unity and camaraderie.

“It’s a day for the community to come together and celebrate each other,” Elbert said.

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