Celebrations of Juneteenth in Jefferson City on Saturday included a program at Lincoln University and a heritage festival at Ellis-Porter Riverside Park — and speakers said there is time to celebrate, despite challenges.
Jefferson City's recent and ongoing challenges were viewable from the motorcade parade that left LU's Soldier's Memorial Plaza and wound its way to Riverside Park; along the way were homes damaged or destroyed by the May 22 tornado, with debris still piled up in yards and along curbs.
Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin and Rev. W.T. Edmonson said during the Juneteenth Emancipation Program at Soldier's Memorial Plaza, though, there is time for celebration.
Juneteenth honors the emancipation of African Americans from slavery in the United States, and specifically the formal declaration of emancipation in Texas on June 19, 1865.
The declaration in Texas came nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and well after black soldiers, such as those of the 62nd and 65th U.S. Colored Infantries memorialized at LU's plaza, began their service with the Union Army.
Retired Army Col. Earnest Wood, who spoke during the emancipation program Saturday, said he's from the East Coast, where Juneteenth has not usually been celebrated, but it's important to remember and honor it because "it's a monumental day."
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"For me, we still need to make people aware," Deloise Williams said at Riverside Park.
Williams, who was working first aid during the heritage festival, said many young people don't know their history, and "we've got to educate them" on "this is where we were; this is where we are now."
Highlighting that goal, Scholastic, Inc. donated a variety of books for children to be given away at the festival — including books about or featuring life in slavery, the Underground Railroad, black Civil War soldiers, school desegregation, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and the creation of hip-hop, to name a few.
The festival also included booths with resource and service providers: the Office of Minority Health, which had toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as informational health brochures; Missouri State Parks; the Missouri Division of Youth Services; the Department of Revenue; Citizens Accountability Partners, inviting rising high school seniors to take the steps to attend a free college fair in St. Louis; the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which has mentoring programs for local boys and girls; and the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, among others.
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Gwendolyn Edmonson, co-founder and vice-president of Juneteenth-Jefferson City, said LU's NCAA Division II women's track and field national championship team would also be recognized during the festival.
Tajera Lawkin was among her teammates representing the university at the program at Soldier's Memorial Plaza.
LU kicked off its celebration of Juneteenth last Sunday.
The theme of this year's event in Jefferson City was "If there is no struggle, there is no progress," which — according to nonprofit Juneteenth-Jefferson City's website — "speaks to our goal of providing an annual Juneteenth Scholarship to a deserving student" and to provide financial support to the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City.