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Black History Society celebrates Emancipation Day
0616JUNE 10
The crowd had plenty of space to walk around Saturday at what may become Gainesville’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Vendors sold jewelry, food and crafts as the band Been There Done That played, a poet read and others spoke. - photo by NAT GURLEY

The first celebration of Juneteenth Day in Gainesville, sponsored by the Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society, was held Saturday afternoon at Midtown Greenway & Park in Gainesville.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, is an observance is many states to celebration the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865.

“I think everybody likes to be able to talk about their culture,” said Barbara Brooks, chairwoman of the society’s board. “Before this, we really didn’t have anything other than the E.E. Butler (school) reunion, and church on Sundays.”

Brooks grew up in the era of Jim Crow laws in nearby Jackson County. She remembered a day when her cousins visited from New York.

“They said, ‘Let’s go get a soda,’ and I didn’t even know what a soda was,” she said, laughing. “So we walked 2 miles to the soda fountain, and we sat at the counter. We were told ‘You can’t be here! You have to leave!’”
“I’ll never forget that day,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t do certain things, but I had never confronted it.”

Now almost 150 years after the abolishment of slavery, the group focuses on the forms of discrimination that still exist. A poster with a message to end all human trafficking was at the front table, which includes other literature and information.

“It’s important to be aware of the issues. If were aren’t aware of them, we can’t take the steps to stop it,” Brooks said.

But the main purpose of the event was to “just have fun,” Brooks said in an announcement over the loudspeakers.

At the city park behind the public safety center, vendors sold food, jewelry, clothing and other goods. Artist Kareem Harris stood by his booth, where he displayed his art and talked about his studio on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“Most of this art will not be duplicated,” he said proudly.

He praised the event, and the opportunity to show his craft.

“This is the first Juneteenth I’ve been to, and it’s been a good pleasure,” he said.

Shalia Campbell sang at the event and also sold baked goods, called “Sweets Divine.” She runs her novelty cake business from home.

“I’m a self-taught baker,” she said.

Vendors and attendees retreated under tents and umbrellas in the midday heat, but by late afternoon, the balmy temperatures earned words of appreciation.

And in a testament to the success of the event, Brooks said that before the day was over, people were asking about the next time.

“I’ve been hearing people ask to do it again,” she said. “It’s gone wonderfully.”

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