Juneteenth celebration spirit not dampened by weather
Officials continue efforts to have event recognized statewide


PGC Juneteenth Celebration
Dandre Carnegie, 3, of Forestville takes a pony ride at the Juneteenth
celebration Saturday at Walker Mill Regional Park in District Heights.
Photo by Christopher Anderson

Gazette.net - Maryland Community Newspapers Online
by Ben Giles
6/25/09


(District Heights, MD) - Despite heavy rains coming down in the parking lot at Walker Mill Regional Park on Saturday, the hosts of Prince George's County's Juneteenth event were determined not to let the weather put a damper on their plans.

"If it was Juneteenth 1865, the rain would not make a difference," said Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Dist. 25) of Forestville. "People would be here in spite of the rain or because of the rain."

An hour later, the storms were over and the celebration was on. The event marked the second time Prince George's County has held a celebration for the increasingly popular date, June 19. Last year, the county held its first formal celebration in the form of a smaller, evening observance.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom or Emancipation Day, recognizes the official date of African-Americans' emancipation from slavery. On June 19, 1865, union troops rode into Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in the state. African-Americans in Texas began annual celebrations on June 19, 1866 and Juneteenth is now recognized in 31 states as either a state holiday or a day of observance.

Under the leadership of County Councilman Samuel H. Dean (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville, Prince George's County has been at the forefront of a campaign to have Juneteenth recognized nationwide.

"We're trying to make this an annual celebration, basically similar to the Fourth of July," Dean said.

Event officials were already passing out fliers asking attendees to save the date for next year's celebration.

Storms earlier in the day scared off many potential visitors, but Park Police estimated 250 people attended.

The Richard Payne Trio, Solomon S. Sparrow and the Lesole Maine South African Dance Troupe entertained the crowd with live concerts and performances. Vendors in attendance provided face painting, caricatures, chess games and free snow cones.

A scavenger hunt highlighting locations of African-American heritage in Prince George's County provided an educational experience for attendees. Visitors could pick up a history passport filled with information on 17 historic sites in the county, such as Blacksox Park in Bowie and the Columbia Air Center in Upper Marlboro.

Theresa Thompson of Upper Marlboro brought a friend, Doris Brown, and Brown's two grandchildren. Thompson said she appreciates the chance to pass on Juneteenth knowledge to a younger generation.

"The old school people, we know about this, but for the younger kids, they don't know," said Thompson. "So this is a big lesson for them to see what really went on in that era."

Guest speakers at the celebration included the Rev. Ronald V. Myers, founder of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, who has worked with Dean for nearly 10 years to observe Juneteenth in the region.

"Prince George's County will always have a special place with the modern Juneteenth movement because of their support for us in the beginning years," said Myers.

Myers has now enlisted Currie's aid to add Maryland to the list of states that officially recognize Juneteenth. Legislation to make Juneteenth a statewide day of observance will be introduced next year, Currie said.

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