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Flag raising to kickoff PA Juneteenth celebrations

 

A full slate of Juneteenth activities will be celebrated this week in observance of the holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery.

From a flag raising to a pageant and parade, several events are planned in observance of the holiday celebrated first celebrated in Texas in 1980.

Though U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on Sept 22, 1862 issued the Emancipation Proclamation with an effective date of Jan. 1. 1863, it was June 1865 before Texans were made aware of the law freeing slaves.

Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government. From the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, on June 19 Granger announced the total emancipation of slaves by reading aloud the contents of “General Order No. 3.”

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with the proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that of employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

At the time, the announcement in Galveston prompted slaves to rejoice in the streets. Today, the Juneteenth celebration is just that — a celebration of being free.

“The celebration here will be a celebration of freedom,” Gail Pelham, Port Arthur Juneteenth organizer, said. “Juneteenth, and what it stands for, must be remembered. The moment you forget your history you are forced to repeat it.”

Pelham said she grew up hearing stories of slavery from her own family. Her great-great grandmother was a slave.

“I am 60 years old. My great-great grandmother was a slave, not that far removed. That’s just two 75-year-old women back to back,” Pelham said.

To commemorate 151 years of freedom, Juneteenth observances in Port Arthur begin at noon Tuesday with a flag raising ceremony at the Jefferson County sub-courthouse in downtown Port Arthur.

The kickoff ceremony will feature not only a raising of the national Juneteenth Flag, but also a speaker and music.

“The ceremony will be short so people can come on their lunch hour,” Pelham said.

On Saturday, the Ms. Juneteenth Cultural Pageant and Mr. Juneteenth Extravaganza is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Jefferson County Park, 444 Fourth St.

This year nine girls ages 4 to 17 and five boys ages 12 to 17 are vying for the respective Juneteenth titles.

This year’s Juneteenth Parade is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday a Stilwell and Procter streets, with lineup up an hour earlier at 5 p.m.

Because the parade falls on Father’s Day, all fathers are urged to come out and be part of the parade festivities.

“June 19th just happens to be on Father’s Day this year, so we will be honoring our fathers and are calling on all fathers to enter the parade,”

The parade will feature marching bands, live entertainment, food and vendors.

Though Texas was the first state to observe Juneteenth, others have followed.

By May 2016, when the Maryland legislature approved official’s recognition of the holiday, 45 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth either as a state holiday, ceremonial holiday or day of observance. Only Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota do not recognize the day.

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