Meaning of Juneteenth not lost among youth

TUPELO – The true meaning of Juneteenth didn’t get lost in Saturday’s celebration.
Teenagers and adults flooded Ballard Park to enjoy music from local and national recording artists and other festivities at the annual Juneteenth Freedom Festival. But, they also didn’t lose sight of why the celebration was taking place.
June 19, 1865, is universally known as the African-American Emancipation Day. On that day in Galveston, Texas, Union soldiers informed the slaves of that town that the Civil War had ended and that they were free. The news came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in Texas and other parts of the South. Because of minimal numbers of Union soldiers in the area to enforce the new executive order, the slaves in that area had no way of knowing.
Alice Walton, 42, of Tupelo said she made sure her son Darius knew what Juneteenth was before she allowed him to attend the festival.
“I know he wanted to come out here and have fun with his friends and stuff, but I wanted him to know why he was able to come,” said Walton. “This is more than just a day when they get to see a free concert put on by their favorite rap artists. This is a day that changed the lives of many African-Americans.”
Even though neither knew all the specifics about Juneteenth’s origin, both Alex Jackson, 14, and his friend JaMichael Roberts, 16, knew it had something to do with slaves being freed.
“I think it was when all the slaves were freed,” Alex said. “I don’t know when it was but I think it was the day when the last slaves were told they were free.”
“Yea, somewhere in Texas,” commented JaMichael. “I think all the other slaves in America were already free and the ones in Texas didn’t know yet.”
Both Tupelo teens helped to spread the word to others in their group. Tyrus Jones, 13, of Okolona had no idea what the day was for. He thought the name was just a catchy word made up for the festival.
“I didn’t know Juneteenth actually meant something important like freeing slaves,” Tyrus said. “I’ve been coming for the past two or three years because they’ve always had rappers I liked. No one ever told me what Juneteenth was about until today.”
James Harris and his wife Loretta attended the festival that is mostly attended by teenagers to see the gospel acts. Both in their 60s, James and Loretta said they grew up knowing what Juneteenth was.
“The kids now days don’t know their history, black and white kids,” said James. “They know how to have fun and follow in the footsteps of rappers, but most of them don’t even know what this day means and that’s sad. And it’s not their fault but the adults who have the job of teaching them their history. Juneteenth is a holiday that blacks can truly call theirs.”
Dorrough, who’s hit single Ice Cream Paint Job is popular among teenagers, was the headlining artist for the festival. Despite temperatures reaching in the high 90s, hundreds of people still were at Ballard Park for the festivities.

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal