Juneteenth celebrates the anniversary of the end of slavery. Or, to be more accurate, it celebrates the anniversary of a celebration of the end of slavery. June 19, 1865, was the day when the slaves of Galveston, Texas, learned they were emancipated.
"What's interesting about that is that it was actually two years after the actual signing of the Emancipation Proclamation," Tameka Lee, director of communications for the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, explains. "It comes from the celebration that took place in Galveston, when those slaves learned they were free."
Over the years, the annual celebration migrated to other Southern states and across the country.
There are many observances and parties across Arkansas, but one of the biggest is the block party-styled event hosted by the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center on Saturday. The center has hosted a celebration every year since 2009 and this one promises to be the biggest yet.
Says Lee, "One thing that's a little different this year is the fact that we just have so much more entertainment. And it's varied entertainment."
The list of music performers is long and includes groups Big John Miller Band, Delya Russell, Butterfly and Irie Soul, Foreign Tongues, Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe.
They'll also have dance groups performing and doing some historic re-creations of what Ninth Street was like back in the day.
The motorcycle club 2 Wheel Cruisers will be out in force with a motorcycle show. And, of course, there will be food, with vendors and food trucks selling everything "from ice cream to barbecue." To make sure everyone stays hydrated, the center will give out plenty of water.
As for children, there will be caricatures, face painting, games and activities.
It's not solely about partying. It's also a day for reflection and there are two special opportunities for visitors to learn a bit about the past.
The center has a new exhibit, "Arkansas African American Legislators, 1868-1893," that will be open for viewing along with permanent exhibits like "Brotherhood and the Bottom Line," "Entrepreneurial Spirit" and "A City Within a City," all of which explore the lives and contributions of the black community in Arkansas.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, AETN, PBS and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity join together for a special premiere screening of American Experience: Freedom Summer. This new documentary about the voter registration efforts in Mississippi during the summer of 1964 was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and will air on AETN on Tuesday.
The cultural center's Juneteenth celebration typically draws between 900 and 1,000 guests and they're hoping to have even more this year.
As Lee says, "This is an event that is fun; it's rooted in history. It really is an opportunity for people to look forward while at the same time, taking a chance to look back and have some reflection. Without that reflection, sometimes it's hard to really know what it is you're celebrating.
"It's a chance to say, 'Look how far we've come as a country.'"
Weekend on 06/19/2014
Print Headline: Cultural center to celebrate Juneteenth in big way