History meshed with present day life when hundreds gathered Saturday, June 23, at Gainesville’s Midtown Greenway for the sixth annual Juneteenth Day Festival sponsored by the Gainesville-Hall Black History Society.
The event included live entertainment that included music, dancing and poetry readings. Many local businesses offered artwork, jewelry and food for purchase, and other organizations handed out information.
“Last year we had about 300 people turn out,” said Gainesville-Hall Black History Society member and event organizer Stephanie Watkins. “This year we are expecting about 200 to 300 again.”
To kick off the celebration, Society member Beverley Hamin explained the purpose of Juneteenth, which marks the anniversary of the end of slavery at the close of the Civil War in 1865.
“While Juneteenth may be a festive celebration, it is also a day of reflection and renewal,” she said in her speech. “This is the granddaddy of all family reunions.”
Society member Nathaniel Shelton has attended every Juneteenth celebration since they began.
“I’ve been a member of the society forever,” he said. “Not since the very beginning, but for quite a few years. I enjoy Juneteenth because it’s festive and it brings so many people in the community together. Last year we had the largest crowd in the six years that we’ve been doing this event.”
Catherine Wilmont, coordinator for Mission Ministry at St. John Baptist Church, came to help spread the word about the church’s health ministry.
“Emma Allen, who is the coordinator for our health ministry, thought it would be a good chance for us to inform the community about high blood pressure, so that’s what we’ve got set up today,” she said.
“I love the closeness and unity that Juneteenth brings, because there are all walks of life that come to this celebration. It also is a reminder of how far the African-American community has come, and that there is still work to do.”
John W. Harris, Chairman of the Board and President of the Fair Street-Butler High School’s Alumni Association Inc., came to represent the association.
“Many years ago there was only one all-black high school that served Gainesville and Hall County, but after 1969, they had to integrate with Gainesville High School,” he said. “I graduated with the class of 1965, and initially, the alumni association started out as a reunion committee. Now we have grown the association and have a community presence, to help inform others and preserve the history of this great school that helped create so many local doctors, teachers, and leaders in the community.”
Destiny Brawner, a young self-taught artist, brought several paintings to sell at the celebration.
“I painted these especially for the event,” she said. “Juneteenth is such an inspiring holiday to me and I just enjoy coming out to celebrate what it stands for with everyone else.”
Venezuela Borders, owner of Borders Bakers, has been coming to the event for about three years with her children.
“I first heard about it a few years ago and thought it would be a good opportunity to teach my kids about their history,” she said. “After all, history should not be forgotten.”