The sounds of laughter and music, the smell of hot food and a warm summer sun filled Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Sherman Saturday as hundreds gathered to celebrate Juneteenth.
“It’s a part of history, and each generation should know about it,” said Gwen Gabriel, who attended the celebration.
Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed in Galveston with news that the Civil War was over and the slaves were free. The news came two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It’s something to be celebrated, the slaves being freed — to be recognized as a human being,” said Marilyn Walker. “It’s a celebration of what my ancestors have done so we can be here, so we can vote, so we can have some say in what’s going on in our lives.”
Celebrations of Juneteenth began in 1866, according to the Texas State Library website. They have ebbed and flowed over the years, experiencing a resurgence in the middle of the second half 20th century, and in 1980, June 19 became an official state holiday, “Emancipation Day in Texas.”
“Anytime you get a race of people that is able to celebrate their freedom, I think that’s important,” said Lester Baldwin, who now lives in Flower Mound but grew up in Sherman and returned for Saturday’s celebration. “This is part of our culture. This is part of who we are.”
In addition to fellowship, food seemed to play a big role in the celebration.
“Food has always played a big part in every culture,” said Brenda Pope. “We’re catering to what’s culturally correct.”
Pope said the day was a chance for cultural unity as well. “I see that the people are coming together,” she said. “It’s a time for us to be together and seek out our culture.”
Recent Sherman High School graduate Erica Hayden said the celebration serves as a reminder. “It’s a day to remember our struggles, and our past and where we came from,” said Hayden, who was crowned Miss Juneteenth.
“It’s an extremely awesome honor,” she said of the recognition that comes with a $500 scholarship.
Hayden plans to attend Grayson College, followed by Texas Woman’s University with aspirations to become a teacher. During her years in high school, Hayden overcame her own personal struggles, excelling in her academic work even with dyslexia.
“I took advanced classes; I took pre-AP classes,” she said. “I did things people told me I couldn’t because I was dyslexic. I wanted to let them know that it is possible, even though I do have a learning disability.”
There will be a Juneteenth celebration in Denison on Saturday beginning at 11:30 a.m. at Munson Park. The event will include a parade free food, games, horseshoes and hayrides. For more information contact, Diane Wimbish at 903-465-5618.