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Juneteenth Festival speakers remind slavery issue still exists
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Ricky Garrett of Cowboy Ricky BBQ cooks turkey drumsticks, ribs and corn on the cob Saturday at the Juneteenth “A Celebration of Freedom” on the Midtown Greenway. - photo by NAT GURLEY

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, families are ready to celebrate American independence.

At Saturday’s Juneteeth Festival, families and friends were also celebrating independence, a freedom they say is still being fought for every day.

The Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society held a festival at the Midtown Greenway Space and Park in Gainesville that celebrated freedom and raised awareness for those who are still not free. 

Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when news of the Civil War ending and slaves being freed finally reached Galveston, Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official.

“Juneteeth is important, because it is the first holiday or festival that is for the contributions of the African-American people, and it is uniquely ours,” said Barbara Brooks, chairwoman of the society. “We are not all free. Human trafficking is still a problem, and we want to bring slavery today to the forefront.”

Speakers included Charles Morrow, a former chairman of the history society, who read a speech by 19th century abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, “What to a slave is the Fourth of July?”

Jessica Stephens of the society read a poem she wrote about suffering and slavery.

“I look back 160 years and I see slavery is gone,” Morrow said. “But there’s another kind of slavery in this country, and it’s a subtle type, and that is what calls me when I read this speech. This is an important message to our people.

“We tend to have to do several times over what others have to do to be in the same competitive race.”

This is one of two annual events the Black History Society holds annually; the other is an anniversary celebration in February. 

“We want to raise awareness of what we can do about human trafficking because there are still children being sold, there is still slavery,” Brooks said.

After the short program of speakers, everyone was invited to enjoy the music and food provided by vendors.

One of the vendors, Fair Street-Butler High Schools Alumni Association, sold fried fish sandwiches and hot dogs. 

Bobby Stephens, president of the alumni association said, “We hold events and fundraisers to raise money