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By Hilary Weaver
For many Americans, June 19 is a date to circle on the calendar. It was on this day in 1865 that Major General Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of slavery. Today, this occasion has evolved into an annual commemoration called “Juneteenth.” The festival’s purpose is to commemorate African American freedom, as well as spread knowledge and celebrate African American achievements. Although the festival centers on African Americans and their accomplishments since the end of slavery, people of all races, nationalities and religions are welcome.
The length of Juneteenth varies from area to area, some lasting a day, some a week and others as long as a month. This year’s Juneteenth celebration in Columbia will be held at Douglass Park on June 16 and 17 from 3 to 8 p.m.
Bill Thompson, coordinator of the event, says Columbia and surrounding towns held past celebrations of emancipation in the month of August, as opposed to June.
“The emancipation of slaves in the state of Missouri didn’t occur until August of 1965, but the national celebration is in June,” he says. “About ten years ago, we moved the celebration to June because this is the nationally accepted date.”
Thompson says in past years he has tried to implement historical speakers and other informational resources to provide historical education to event attendees. This year, he’s decided to educate the community through the tradition of an old-fashioned basket dinner on Saturday from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Thompson says this has been a tradition in African American churches since the post-civil war days.
“We’ve asked several churches to take part in this, and each church is responsible for bringing something,” he says. “We’ve also asked churches to bring some information about the history of their church.”
A pig roast provided by Tim Rich at United Way will be the main attraction at Saturday’s basket dinner.
Sunday’s entertainment will feature a talent show from 4 to 7 p.m. with eight to 10 participants who will perform a variety of acts from hop-hop to double-dutch jump rope. Thompson hopes the celebration will communicate the true value of tradition to Columbia residents.
“This year, we’re trying to do more activities that relate to the community,” Thompson says. “We’re just asking everyone to come out and learn new history.”
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