President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, abolishing slavery in the United States.
Texas slaves did not hear about the proclamation for over two years later when the American Civil War had ended, and Union troops pulled into Galveston.
It was then, on June 19, 1965, that Gen. Gordon Granger made the announcement and read the General Order Number 3, which opened with the following paragraph:
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
The celebration of freedom of Texas slaves became known as Juneteenth and is one of the oldest observances in the United States. The commemoration started as a time of reassurance, prayer, and gathering of family, with many former slaves and their descendants making a pilgrimage to Galveston, according to Juneteenth.com.
The celebration became an official state holiday on Jan. 1, 1980, through the efforts of African-American state legislator Al Edward and was the first emancipation celebration granted official status, according to Juneteenth.com.
This year’s celebration in Port Lavaca begins Friday and continues through Sunday at George Adams Park and is put on by Calhoun Citizens in Action.
“It’s a day black people really celebrate the day we found out we were free. We didn’t realize that until later, and that’s why we celebrate the 19th of June,” said CCIA President Barbara Williams.
“This is really a homecoming – the kids who left Port Lavaca come home. We have about 1,500 to 1,800, and that’s the main reason we keep it going,” said Bobby Barefield, who does the cooking for the event. “There are no vendors selling anything, so the weekend is enjoyable without spending a lot of money.”
Williams said the hardest thing is “getting everything organized and working. Getting the funds to do it, and this city has helped us greatly. It has really helped us out.”
The CCIA hosts fund-raisers throughout the year to pay for the event.
Helping to plan and put together the event are Juneteenth committee members Jerry Smith, CCIA Vice President Emma Clay, Port Lavaca Mayor Jack Whitlow, Martha Barefield, Lawrence “Pumpkin” Williams, Charles Davis, Lynne Youngblood Linda Myers, CCIA Secretary Julia Edwards, CCIA Treasurer Sameka Love, Ways & Means Chairman Sam Love Jr., Cherry George and Floyd Robinson.
Kicking things off will be a western-themed get-together on Friday with prizes for the best-dressed lady and man.
“We always do free food on Saturday and Sunday and a Sunday service in the park,” said Williams.
“It’s like a mini-reunion. Most of the events are family oriented. We have family games, Bingo, a domino tournament with gift cards for prizes,” said Barefield.
Two bands will get the night jamming - “a rock band and a rhythm and blues band from San Antonio. They are really good,” said Barefield.
Headlining the event will be the R&B stylings of The Groove Doctors out of San Antonio. Kicking things off will be Cool & Together, a rock band out of Victoria.
“The community is invited to come out. There will be plenty of good music, games and talented people for everyone to enjoy. I really hope for good weather. Last year we had to shut down early because of the weather. We’re praying for a good turnout and good weather,” said Barefield.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Calhoun Citizens in Action
Annual Juneteenth Celebration
George Adams Park, Port Lavaca, TX
7:30 - 11 p.m.: DJ Slick (Western Theme)
11 a.m. Opening Ceremony
Noon-2 p.m.: Free Barbecue Lunch
2-5 p.m.: Adult & Youth Bingo; Domino Tournament; & Children’s events
5-6 p.m.: St. Peter’s Praise Dance Team of Victoria
6-7 p.m. Cool & Together rock band of Victoria
8-11 p.m.: The Groove Doctors from San Antonio in concert
1:30 p.m.: Free Fish Fry
3 p.m.: Church Service in the Park
“It’s fun with all the families coming in from out of town – Austin, Houston, Dallas - all the kids are coming in. The community is welcomed to join us in the celebration,” said Williams.
Check out Calhoun Citizens in Action on Facebook. Call 361-552-7021 to join the organization.