PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

June 19, 2013

PA Juneteenth celebration draws lively crowd

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Marching bands, folkloric dancers, beauty queens, motorcyclists and jazz musicians livened up Stillwell Boulevard Wednesday during Port Arthur’s annual Juneteenth Parade.

Event organizer Gail Pellum said this year’s parade, the 32nd, brought more entrants, and more people lining the street to observe the important day in history.

Juneteenth celebrations all over the nation marked the 150th anniversary of the date when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law prior to the Civil War’s conclusion.

The day’s significance was not lost on youngsters participating in the Port Arthur parade.

“This is the day they let the slaves go free, but Texas was last to release the slaves,” Glitz Dinet, 12, of Port Arthur, said.

Juneteenth commemorates June 18 and 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves nearly two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862.

Reflecting about the day and its significance so long ago, Dinet imagined what it would have been like to have been a slave in those days.

“I would have felt so free, and so happy just to be free,” Dinet said.

Phyllis Lacy Baker, 71, of Port Arthur and the 2011 Miss Juneteenth, remembers well the stories passed down about her great-great-grandfather, Woodrow Pipkin.

“He was born a slave. His master taught him how to read. His master was a minister, and he was a minister. My grandfather started the first black school and the first black church in Beaumont,” Baker said, adding that she is very proud to carry on his bloodline.

Because 150 years have passed since the days of slavery, and younger generations are not so familiar with their heritage, Baker said events like Wednesday’s Juneteenth Parade are important to ensure that people don’t forget what their ancestors endured before they gained their freedom.

“I don’t care what your ethnicity is;  you should know where you came from,” Baker said.

Deborah Aquirre, secretary of the Golden Triangle Hispanic Association, agreed.

In a city filled with so many different cultures, Aquirre said it is important that different races embrace each other’s cultures and learn their heritage.

“We are here to show who we are, and that we can all work together,” Aquirre said.

At parade’s end, Jazz Saxophonist Dean James topped off the night with a mini-concert along with Port Arthur native Lola Blue.

Dean, this  year’s parade marshal, is the first non-African American to lead Port Arthur’s Juneteenth Parade.

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

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