Saturday was a day of reflection for many who attended the 16th annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival. For others, it was a day to celebrate and showcase talent in the African-American community.
The festival in Jefferson City kicked off with the annual emancipation program, where Lt. Col. Eddie Brown, retired Missouri National Guard serviceman, discussed the history behind the Emancipation Proclamation and how it did not lead to the immediate freeing of all slaves in the United States.
The annual program was at Soldier Memorial Plaza on Lincoln University's campus.
Juneteenth is a celebration of when the last slaves were freed in Texas, two years after President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
For Brown, Juneteenth is a time for reflecting on the good and bad during a time of segregation, especially for African-American men who served their country.
He said the Selective Service Act of 1917, which initially called for men between ages 21-30 to register for military service, did not create equal opportunities for black men to enlist.
For example, Brown said though there was no specific language of segregation pertaining to enlisted men, black men who registered were asked to tear the bottom half of their draft card so they could easily be recognized.
At that time, blacks could not serve in the Marines and could only perform certain duties in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard. By the end of World War I, though, that changed, and officer training schools began accepting African-American men.
Despite continued injustices, Brown said African-American soldiers fought with distinction.
"By the time World War II came around, many African-Americans didn't see this war as their war, but they fought with distinction," Brown said. "Fighting for a country that really didn't see them as equal."
Planning committee chair Wyndi Chambers left the ceremony emotional after seeing the support from the younger generations.
"Seeing so many young people here does something to me," Chambers said. "Of all the places they could be, they are on the steps of a memorial on a historically black university campus. This is worth celebrating; this is worth getting excited about."
After the laying of the wreath, which signified the observance of the men and women who have served in the military, Juneteenth participants traveled in a motorcade across town to Ellis-Porter Riverside Park to partake in the next portion of the day's festivities.
This year's festival theme was "Health, Hope and Happiness."
"We certainly want the young people to recognize part of this celebration is connected to events in African-American history that has brought us to where we are today," said Pastor Cornell Suddeth of Second Baptist Church. "There is information out there that people still need to be aware of."
Representatives from the Cole County Health Department, Department of Heath and Senior Services, Special Health Care Needs and Brain Injury Program, Community Health Center, Council for Drug free Youth, Missouri Vocational Rehab and Right Road Counseling LLC were in attendance spreading the word of the services they offer to the community at no cost.
Jefferson City Councilman Carlos Graham was also present and spoke on behalf of Lincoln University.
Festival attendee Mentha Bakari recently moved to the Capital City from Milwaukee and said she was excited be a part of the festival and came to see how Jefferson City celebrates Juneteenth in comparison to her hometown.
The day featured a variety of performances highlighting local talent, including dance groups the Royal Tigerettes, Unique Show Stoppers, Dance Unlimited and a solo hip-hop performance by Aniyah West, 17.
"This is the best Juneteenth festival by far," Vershay Weston, 13, said. "For me, the music has been the best part so far."
Jerica Austin, 13 added: "It's important for us to have a space to come together and just dance, eat and have fun."
There was also a variety of talent showcased during the adult and youth talent show portion of the event — everything from spoken word, interpretative dance, poetry and solo music performances.
Da'Mia Day took first place in the youth portion of the contest, with her performance of "Rock with You" by Michael Jackson, taking home a new bicycle. In the adult category, Alexis Collins won first place for her interpretative dance performance, receiving a $30 gift card donated by Simply Beautiful Salon and Spa.
The performances were complimented by the announcement of the Little Mr. and Miss Juneteenth Pageant winners who auditioned the night before.
In the 4-6 age category, Sire Mosely, 5, was crowned Little Mr. Juneteenth, and Delilah Green, 6, was crowned Little Miss Juneteenth. In the 7-9 category, Jamilia Small received Little Miss Juneteenth. There was no entry for Little Mr. in that category.
The festival's grand finale performance was by Charlotte Fletcher & Soign, a band from Kansas City. Charlotte Fletcher is an LU alumna and said she was excited to be back on her old stomping grounds. This was the band's first Juneteenth performance.
"The fact that I am an alumni of LU is huge for me. Plus, I have my children out here with me who have never seen where I attended college," Fletcher said. "To me, Juneteenth means black people coming together to have a good time and reflect on our history."