Drew County Celebrates Juneteenth with parade

A combination of COVID-19, job losses and a nation calling for social change has made traditions hard to keep, but ingenuity and a little imagination has seen the Drew County community come together to try and keep traditions alive and well. An eclipsed end to a school year, was quickly followed by cancellations of pageants, church services and changes to festivals. The June Dinner was not immune and was canceled for this year, but don’t count the residents of Wilmar, along with other yearly celebrants of Juneteenth, out. 
The Juneteenth Association of Wilmar decided that although June Dinner had to be canceled, there would be a community wide parade to commemorate this day. 
“This is not our usual route,” said Mayor Toni Perry. “We are bringing the parade to Wilmar residents.”
The parade line up began at 12 p.m. on West 13th Street and the parade kicked off at 1 p.m. heading toward 12th Street up Cemetery Hill and turning left on McKinstry. From McKinstry, the parade turned left onto 10th Street until participants reached 8th Street heading South and ended at the North end of 7th Street. 
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States. When Union General Gordon Granger led thousands  of federal troops to Galveston, Texas to announce the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery on June 19, 1865.
Although President Abraham Lincoln had issued the emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, slaves in the southern states were not freed until after the end of the Civil War. Although the war officially ended in April of 1865, it wasn’t until June that word reached Galveston, when Granger announced General Order No. 3. It stated “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Throughout the war, many slave owners moved with their slaves to Texas where the Union had a relatively negligible presence, allowing slavery to continue for much longer than other parts of the country. 
The excitement from the slaves was forever saved in history and according to the book “Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas,” former slave Felix Haywood gave testimony about Juneteenth as part of a New Deal Project.
“The end of the war, it come jus’ like that—like you snap your fingers….Hallelujah broke out….Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere—comin’ in bunches, crossin’, walkin’ and ridin’,” he recalled. “Everyone was a-singin.’ We was all walkin’ on golden clouds….Everybody went wild...We was free. Just like that we was free.”
But it wasn’t “just like that” for all slaves, many owners withheld the news from their slaves until after harvest and many slaves were killed trying to escape. In the Lone Star Pasts Susan Merrit reported that a lot of slaves were killed after freedom, “bushwhacked, shot down while trying to get away….hanging from trees right after freedom.”
Many still celebrate Juneteenth, Wilmar has an annual celebration and a Juneteenth Association to ensure the history is not forgotten. One hundred and fifty-five years after the June 19, 1865 proclamation, Wilmar will still celebrate the holiday. The theme this year is “We can’t breathe without liberty and justice for all,” in recognition and support of current events and in recognition of the death of George Floyd earlier this month.


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