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Juneteenth: Celebration of freedom
Gainesville-Hall County Black Historical Society offers event to highlight end of slavery in US
Thomas Hailey begins cooking hotdogs for the annual Juneteenth celebration at Midtown Greenway on Saturday, June 13, 2015. Hailey was selling hotdogs and other foods to raise money for the Fair Street-Butler Alumni Association scholarship fund.

Juneteenth celebration
When: 4-8 p.m. Saturday, June 17
Where: Midtown Greenway, 682 Grove St. (behind Gainesville Public Safety building)

Though President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, to abolish slavery, it was not until the Civil War concluded more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, that Lincoln’s proclamation took hold in the deep South where some African-Americans were still in bondage.

As Union troops delivered the news of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender, joyous celebrations erupted throughout the country. To this day, African-Americans mark the historical moment with a celebration called Juneteenth.

For the fourth year, the Gainesville-Hall County Black Historical Society is organizing a growing Juneteenth celebration that is slowly taking root in Gainesville.

Stephanie Watkins, a relatively new member to the Black Historical Society, said she’s proud to be part of a close-knit group helping to organize this year’s celebration taking place from 4-8 p.m. June 17 at the Midtown Greenway, 682 Grove St., near the Gainesville Public Safety Complex.

“The tragedy of slavery is often not talked about, and many people want to forget it,” Watkins said. “But, it’s a tragedy to forget it. We have to talk about it in order to feel and move forward.”

There will be time, as Watkins put it, for “reflection and renewal,” without forgetting the festive part of Juneteenth.

Live music will include the Splitz, a group with a repertoire of Motown and R&B classics. Former Gainesville resident Kenneth Brawner is a member of the band. His brother, Kim Brawner, also is on the committee organizing the event.

Watkins said a number of area churches will be represented by their choirs, who will be trying to outdo each other in delivering foot-stomping and soul-raising spirituals.

Poet and writer Doris Davenport, formerly of Gainesville, will offer a literary performance. The poet’s sister, Sandra Davenport — known as the Reverend of Health —  will share her wisdom on nutrition and healthy eating. A third sister, historian Audrey Davenport, is highly qualified to speak about the significance of Juneteenth. She is curator pro tem with the Regional African American Museum of Northeast Georgia, Inc.

As in the past, vendors will man booths with education information, products and food — including Cowboy Ricky’s famous BBQ ribs and turkey legs, Watkins said.

Helping to shoulder the organization Juneteenth 2017 are Linda Hutchens, her sister, Bobbie Cox, Gala Sheats, Kim Brawner, Rita Brown, Beverly Hamin, Connie Sosebee and Gainesville City Councilwoman Barbara Brooks.

“We’re asking everybody to come out in the spirit of community unity for food, fun, art, culture and fellowshipping,” Watkins said.

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