The summer sun shone on the outstretched hands of the children lining the street expecting parade candy, as the Juneteenth celebration began.
The annual parade, which was held on Saturday, June 17, 2017, commemorates June 19, 1865 the day slaves in Texas were freed. It was the official end of slavery across the US. The parade was hosted by the Greater East Austin Youth Association.
“After that (order), enslaved people started creating celebrations on that emancipation day and it’s been adapted,” Faith Weaver, the Culture and Arts Education Coordinator at the George Washington Carver Museum said. “Wherever there are people of color and black people they’ve adopted that day as their freedom day.”
Weaver equates Juneteenth to the Fourth of July for the black community. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, carrying the order, two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
It’s a day to be reminded of how far the country and the community have come since that day. For Nathaniel Cannon, co-founder and director of finance for GEAYA, the parade is a way to honor those that have come before him.
“I feel that we should never forget,” Cannon said. “If you think back at the impact that it had on our people when they got the news, they would really want to celebrate. That’s why I want to keep the memory alive. I don’t ever want to forget.”
Because the annual celebrations happen mostly in Texas many people don’t know anything about the holiday. According to Weaver, the parade and other Juneteenth celebrations are good opportunities for anyone to learn more about the history behind it.
“Really Juneteenth is connected to black history, but it’s also American history,” Weaver said. “Just like we’ve learned about other cultures and our U.S. and Texas history, that’s a part of both of those. It’s a celebration for everyone to come and to learn about it if they don’t know about it.”
Cannon and friend James Howard didn’t intend to start hosting Juneteenth parades when they founded GEAYA together. The association was originally intended as football program in East Austin in 1975. They took over hosting the parade when it’s original organization could no longer put it on. It languished for a few years before Cannon and Howard took over in 2000.
“(We started it) because they had had some trouble the year before and they weren’t going to have Juneteenth anymore,” Howard said. “We decided we would try to make it work.”
Since then the parade has grown to around 5,000 people or more. Groups like the 3_2_1 Dance Studio and athletes from the University of Texas joined the parade for community outreach. Ronnie Major, a Radio-Television-Film freshman, volunteered to come to his first Juneteenth parade and said it’s a beneficial event for the kids in attendance.
“It’s for (the kids) to see how important Juneteenth really is,” Major said. “I feel it’s a good representation of the culture of the African-American community.”
Despite all the struggles within country and the black community, Juneteenth remains a time to showcase the resilience and pride of the people.
“There are so many challenges and things that can be divisive,” Weaver said. “But we still have in common our humanity, that we care about our families and communities. There is love there and any opportunity to come celebrate something in a positive way is a good thing.”