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Victoria Juneteenth celebration offers reflection, chance to grow

By Johnathan Silver
June 21, 2014 at 1:21 a.m.
Updated June 22, 2014 at 1:22 a.m.

Arcenia Edwards looks at the handmade family scrapbook made by Shandra Johnson as she talks about the history behind each person. The oldest photograph in the book is of Johnson's great-great-great-grandfather, who was born in 1813. The Old Landmark Committee hosted  A Multicultural Taste of Soul as part of Juneteenth celebrations.

People of all ethnic backgrounds gathered Saturday at Riverside Park to celebrate a day that marked a turning point in American and Texas history - Juneteenth.

Victoria resident Mitchell Jones, who attended the event, said acknowledging an event that occurred almost 150 years ago is important for people to understand where they come from.

"What happened all those years ago stood for something," he said. "You didn't get here by yourself."

Juneteenth is a holiday that marks the day when Union soldiers brought news to Galveston that slaves had been emancipated. The news reached Texas in 1865, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Now, especially in Texas, that historic moment is observed with celebration June 19. The Old Landmark Committee in Victoria hosted the Multicultural Taste of Soul event in Riverside Park to encourage all ethnicities throughout the Crossroads to stop by the event to join in celebrating a piece of the state's heritage.

Saturday's event drew a few vendors, clergy and community members.

"Juneteenth represents the struggles that our forefathers went through for us," Victoria resident Melvin Tolbert said. "All that bad treatment, all that name calling - all of that to be recognized as people, but some people still don't see it that way."

Older residents need to appeal to today's youth to change how people view each other as it relates to race, Tolbert said.

"Some people still look at black people as less than," Tolbert said.

The Rev. Johnny Todd, a member of the Old Landmark Committee, said the struggles before the Emancipation Proclamation affected more than black people in the United States.

"It's about everyone," he said, explaining that other ethnic and racial groups faced discrimination and hardships as well.

Everyone in the community, he said, should share in the celebration because Juneteenth is observed by acknowledging every group's deliverance from toil and strife.

Gary Moses, a member of the Old Landmark Committee who has ties in the community that date back at least four decades, said he came to support friends.

"It's a celebration that's very important to all," Moses said. "In America, everyone has the right to achieve and have freedom."

Victoria resident Shandra Johnson shared a family heirloom to acknowledge the historic day. A scrapbook she made features ancestors who lived as far back as the early 1800s.

"People didn't talk back then because of the harshness and pain," Johnson said, explaining how some families did not document or record their lives throughout the years in the United States.

The scrapbook is a way of documenting such history and learning from it, she said.

"When I look at it," Johnson said, "you count your blessings and do something better in life."

She shares the same perspective about Juneteenth.

"You can't look back at the negative things," she said. "You have to look forward."

Johnson moves forward by looking further into the history of her family and encourages others to do the same.

Inscribed in front of the scrapbook are these words:

"This special book upon the shelf was made with many hands. Our ancestors who posed back then all came from different lands.

"Their pictures were all tucked away, and rarely did we see the importance of these treasures. The start of you and me with the history of our families now here in black and white.

"Preserved with special care and time each page is done just right. When time permits we take it down, and think of days long past. Our hopes, our dreams, our heritage. All safe and made to last."

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