Nathan Wilson | Reporter
(Note: to see a full page of photos from the event, pick up a copy of the June 23 print edition, available at the Natchitoches Times office)
Excitement around Juneteenth holiday reveals it’s more than just a day of the year.
The celebrations of this year’s Juneteenth holiday started Friday, June 17 and extended through the weekend.
The public celebrations began June 17 with a kickoff breakfast social at The Breadhouse Nakatosh with Dr. Jason Anderson from the Louisiana School for Math Science and the Arts speaking on the significance of the holiday and its history. “We have to educate others about the significance of that date,” he said after the speech. “From there we can begin to celebrate properly.”
The action shifted to Natchitoches Jr. High where a series of youth basketball playoff games culminated in a special exhibition game that pitted athletes representing the City of Natchitoches against NSU staff members. The NSU team, clad in purple, scored a victory against the maroon garbed city slickers in an upset game.
Following the games, the celebration continued at the Ben Johnson Park basketball courts on MLK with speeches, poetry, art, music and dance performances by members of the community. “I am so glad to see other people coming now that it’s a national and state holiday. Giving without asking and creating activities to celebrate all over the country (and) all over Natchitoches,” said Randy Stelly. He has been organizing Juneteenth celebrations for more than a decade after moving to Natchitoches from Houston.
Groups such as the Voter’s and Civic League and Empak were present to support and empower residents by providing services such as voter registration and mental health support. “We are here providing services for misdiagnosed and undiagnosed members of the Natchitoches Parish Community,” said Regine Bell, Empak’s founder.
Festivities resumed Saturday with a speech by NSU Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Michael Snowden at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum. He presented information on the history of the holiday, historical film excerpts and written remembrances of former slaves dating to the emancipation period.
NSU graduate students Erykah Wells and Marissa Ramsey attended the event as chaperones of the Excel program which prepares students from under-resourced schools to enroll at LSMSA.
“We wanted to give our students the opportunity to see more than what they may have ever seen,” said Wells. “This morning we asked them if they knew what Juneteenth was and only a few of them did.”
“Juneteenth (is) for us, it’s our ancestors, basically. It’s who we are as people,” said Ramsey.
The public celebrations proceeded onto Front Street where crowds gathered at the Rue Beauport stage to watch bands perform into the evening.
As night fell, the celebration culminated in a fireworks display marking the 156th anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, celebrates its first anniversary as a federal holiday. It recognizes the importance of June 19, 1865, when federal troops under the command of Maj. Gen Gordon Granger sailed into Galveston and informed slaves living in Texas of their freedom.
Nathan Wilson | Reporter