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See details of Port Arthur’s Juneteenth celebration — “It’s our Fourth of July”

It took two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for enslaved individuals in Galveston to learn of their freedom.

This day of freedom for African Americans, called Juneteenth, will be commemorated with activities beginning at 10 a.m. Friday on the steps of the sub-courthouse in Port Arthur.

The city’s African American Cultural Society is hosting the event that will feature a flag raising, a Harriet Tubman enactment by actor/storyteller/playwright Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux, entertainment and more.

Charles Johnson, left, and Mike Thompson raise the Juneteenth flag during a 2020 celebration at the Port Arthur Sub-Courthouse. (Mary Meaux/The News)

“Juneteenth is like the Fourth of July to most Americans,” said Carolyn Thibodeaux, children’s and young adult librarian at Port Arthur Public Library and member of the Cultural Society. “The news didn’t come until a few years later. It’s our Fourth of July.”

Thibodeaux is working on a display for the library to illustrate Juneteenth — June 19, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued Jan. 1, 1863, stating all enslaved people in the Confederate states in the battle with the Union “shall be then, henceforward, and forever free,” according to history.com.

In reality, the proclamation didn’t instantly free the enslaved individuals. It only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control.

“In Texas, slavery had continued as the state experienced no large-scale fighting or significant presence of Union troops. Many enslavers from outside the Lone Star State had moved there, as they viewed it as a safe haven for slavery,” the site said.

“After the war came to a close in the spring of 1865, General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’ 250,000 enslaved people. Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight for everyone — in some cases, enslavers withheld the information until after harvest season — celebrations broke out among newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born. That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment,” the webpage read.

Mayor Thurman Bartie reads a proclamation during a Juneteenth celebration at the Port Arthur Sub-Courthouse in 2020.

Johnny Hulin, one of the founders of the African American Cultural Society, spoke on the importance of honoring Juneteenth.

“One of the most important, aspects and simplest is that in order for a person to know where they are going, they need to know where they came from and understand the history of Juneteenth and the struggles our forefathers and mothers have gone through,” Hulin said. “It gives us an opportunity, the reason, the drive to be a better person because of all of the struggles that had to go on before.”

Thibodeaux reflected on Galveston at the time and Port Arthur, saying the two cities share the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the same geographical territory.

“How can Port Arthur not give reverence to this holiday,” she said. “That’s my passion as part of the AACS and community it behooves me to do something.”

She said the raising of the Juneteenth flag is a time to look back and be considerate of all who have gone on before, a time for dialogue and a time for healing.