Juneteenth is more than just a fun day for families at the park with food, music and games.
Although it is all that, it is most of all a celebration of freedom that finally came to all African-Americans in the United States on June 19, 1865.
In the United States, slavery began shortly after the first English colonists arrived and lasted until the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863. It would take another 2 1/2 years for the final slaves in the Confederate States to receive their freedom.
In mid-June, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger read the contents of General Order No. 3:
“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation.
That day has since become known as Juneteenth, a name coming from a combination of June and 19th and coined by 1903.
Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. It is a now a state holiday or observance in more than half of the U.S. states.
Mike Shelton recalled that the event in Yuma had been sponsored by the Second Missionary Baptist Church. The church turned the observance over to the local chapter of NAACP while he was president in the early 1990s.
“It's an excellent way to preserve that history,” Shelton said. “We remember what the Emancipation Proclamation did. It's not just a dusty document. It's important in people's lives.”
But it's also another venue for people to come together and have a good time, he said. “That's always a good thing. I like to see that tradition continue.”
For this year's observance, to be held from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Carver Park, Shelton will serve as a storyteller, probably relating some African folk tales.
Shelton's presentation will be part of the Reading Corner that will also include library readings, said Beverly Cade, co-chair of this year's Juneteenth.
Cade said other activities will include gospel music by local choirs, watermelon-eating contest, dessert contest, dancing, such games as three-legged race, basketball toss and Hula Hoops for seniors as well as lots of vendors selling such fare as barbecue, hot dogs and Indian fry bread.
Helping make this year's event a success are “some good sponsors,” she said, including the Communications Workers of America Union, Cocopah Casino, Crossroads Mission and others from around the community.
“We want everybody to come out and enjoy the event — the whole community,” Cade said.