Victorians celebrate freedom at Juneteenth parade, picnic
June 19, 2010 at 1:19 a.m.
Miss Juneteenth: Kerstyn Williams
Junior Miss Old Landmark Committee: Ciara Williams
Victoria hip-hop step
Grand marshal: Deborah Branch
Arthur Nelson had never heard of Juneteenth until last year.
On Saturday, the longtime Colorado resident and current Victorian, along with parishioners of the church he pastors, celebrated the anniversary of the day that slaves in Texas were informed of their emancipation.
"It's important for the same reason it's important to celebrate July 4," said Nelson, who is white, about Juneteenth. "They got their freedom just like we got our freedom from England, from oppression."
Victorians gathered for a parade and a picnic to celebrate Juneteenth, which began as a holiday in Texas but has since spread to other states.
On Jan. 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves and ending the institution of slavery in the U.S.
News of their emancipation didn't reach Texas slaves until June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers reached the shores of Galveston and proclaimed the slaves free and the Civil War over.
A crowd of less than 10 watched the parade with six entries.
The parade began on East North Street at Patti Welder Middle School. It stopped at the Victoria Community Center.
Robert Fumbanks and his son watched the parade from the sidewalk. He snapped pictures as cars ambled down North Street.
"It's a shame that more people don't turn out to this event because this is a very important event for African Americans," he said.
He said the day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed was one of the most important days in black history.
Demetrius Jeffries, 11, was in a neighborhood store when he saw an ambulance and drifted toward the commotion. He remembered it was Juneteenth when he noticed there was a parade going on but was disappointed to learn there were only six entries.
"So that's not even a parade," Demetrius said, his eyes squinting. "That's a shame nobody really came out."
Deborah Branch, a Democratic candidate for district attorney, was the grand marshal of the parade.
Branch said that black Victorians celebrate Juneteenth as an ode to their ancestry and to celebrate.
"There are people who came before us, and they made great sacrifices. They're the reason we're here today."
Branch said the parade went well despite the modest turnout.
But plenty of people turned out at the picnic that followed in the Catholic War Veterans hall.
Cary Givens, 82, looks forward to celebrating Juneteenth every year.
"I've been celebrating it all my life," Givens said.
Madlyn Gant, 89, remembered getting the day off for Juneteenth in the past. Every Juneteenth, people from all over the area would go house to house for barbecue and a celebration.
"If they heard about the 19th of June, they were going to come," she said.
Indeed, Joe Wyatt attends every Juneteenth celebration in Victoria.
"I don't miss this," he said, calling Juneteenth one of the best days in black history. "This is a very fine day. I will come here until my time is up."