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MARY MEAUX — Celebrate our community’s history with Juneteenth in Port Arthur

It took 2½ years for slaves in Texas, Galveston to be precise, to learn of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

News of freedom came 155 years ago — on June 19, 1865, and today the local African American Cultural Society headed up by Gail Pellum will host two celebrations in Port Arthur. Some of the usual activities Pellum and AACS have worked hard to present will not happen due to COVID-19.

A flag raising ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. at the Jefferson County Sub-Courthouse, 525 Lakeshore Drive, and hosted by Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael Sinegal. And it’s important to note social distancing will be practiced.

The celebration of Juneteenth continues with a vehicle caravan beginning at 6 p.m. — with line-up starting at 5 p.m. at Stilwell Boulevard to the Barbara Jacket Park, where Pellum may make a statement. The NAACP will provide voices and refreshments.

In early years there was not much interest outside the African American community in participating in Juneteenth celebrations, according to information on the African American Cultural Society website.

In some cases there was outwardly exhibited resistance by barring the use of public property for the festivities. Most early festivities were in rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding and barbecues. And often the church grounds were the sites for activities. As African Americans became landowners, land was donated and dedicated for the festivities.

The site goes on to say the Rev. Jack Yates, a former slave and a Baptist minister, organized one of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth — $1,000 was raised and with it came the purchase of Emancipation Park in Houston.

“Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures,” the website states. “As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.”

The Port Arthur Public Library is highlighting a number of books where you can celebrate freedom through reading titles by African American authors and more.

For adults:

  • The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
  • The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
  • The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  • The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
  • There Will Be No Miracles, by Casey Gerald
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

For children:

  • Ana and Andrew: A Day at the Museum, by C.P. Patrick
  • Welcome Precious, by Nikki Grimes
  • Let the Children March, by Monica Clark-Robinson
  • Grandmama’s Pride, by Becky Birtha
  • Chocolate Me, by Taye Diggs
  • When Grandmama Sings, by Margaree King Mitchell
  • Lily Brown’s Paintings, by Angela Johnson

Mary Meaux is a news reporter at The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at mary.meaux@panews.com.