Juneteenth marks time of celebration, praise

Saturday, June 21, 2014 | 9:05 p.m. CDT; updated 7:46 a.m. CDT, Sunday, June 22, 2014
The annual Juneteenth celebration Saturday in Douglass Park was rained out, but not before a brief bout of dancing. The event commemorates the end of slavery in 1865.

COLUMBIA­— Singer Angie Stone’s "No More Rain" played through the speakers at Douglass Park on Saturday as attendees of the Juneteenth event took cover from the storm under the park's shelter.

Roughly 30 people were in attendance when the rain began, and they all huddled together as it fell on this year's festivities commemorating the emancipation of American slaves. Attendees swayed along to music played by disc jockey Mitch Henderson.

Juneteenth is the oldest national celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. The event originated in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, announced the end of the Civil War. June 19 became known as African-American Emancipation Day, according to the official Juneteenth website.

This announcement arrived two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in only Confederate states in 1863; but it was not until the arrival of Granger's forces that the proclamation was fully implemented.

In Columbia, Juneteenth celebrates African-American heritage and achievement. Bill Thompson, an event organizer, arranged displays of newspaper clippings, advertisements and information about famous black Columbia residents, such as pianist J. W. “Blind” Boone, dating back to the early 1900s. The rain forced Thompson to sweep the display off the table and bring the papers to his car.

"I try exposing people to different things," Thompson said in reference to his displays. "It's about letting people know there is a rich heritage."

For Curtis "Boogieman" Soul, who has helped organize the celebration for the past five years, Juneteenth is a time to commemorate independence within the black community.

"This is our Fourth of July,” Soul said, as three young boys  gathered in the center of the shelter and began to dance to Pharrell William's "Happy." "In 1776, white America was freed from England, but black folk were still slaves.”

Before the rain, Columbia resident Martha Mitchell sat under the shelter watching everyone around her.

She's been coming to Columbia's Juneteenth event for 20 years. For her this is a time to celebrate with the community.

“Kids come down and play games,” Mitchell said.  “And then they’ll have bands down here, too. You can come down here and enjoy yourself and talk to other people.”

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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