Juneteenth fest spreads to city

The celebration originally marked the end of slavery in Texas.
WARREN -- A group of residents is bringing another piece of black history to the city.
Community Concerned Citizens, a group of 25 people from across the city, is organizing Warren's first Juneteenth observance June 15 in Quimby Park.
CCC formed about four years ago.
"It was the Declaration of Independence for the slaves," said Mary Ann Franklin a CCC member and an organizer of the Juneteenth event.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery, according to the Juneteenth.com Web site.
Historical significance
On June 19, 1865, Major Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, informing residents that the Civil War was over and the slaves were free.
Although the date is more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, only a small number of Union forces were in Texas to enforce the order before Granger's regiment arrived, and word hadn't reached the slaves.
The news delivered by Granger also informed the slaves that the order meant equal rights of property between them and their former masters.
"They celebrated because they were so happy to be out of bondage," Franklin said.
The celebration lasted about a week.
Lois Roper, another event organizer, said the slave owners kept their slaves illiterate, adding to the reasons slaves in Texas didn't get news of their freedom for more than two years.
Spreading nationwide
The celebration became an annual event and as former slaves moved from Texas to other states, in search of their family members who had been sold, they took the celebrations with them, Franklin said. Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday in 1980.
The June 15 event will be the first time it's been celebrated in the city.
"It's especially for the youth," she said, adding that many people, young and old are unaware of the observance.
The day will begin at 11 a.m. with a prayer service. Games and activities patterned after those played during the early celebrations, like hopscotch, a talent show, baseball, horseback riding and fishing, are planned. Attendees are asked to bring picnic baskets, lawn chairs and blankets.
Traditional foods such as barbecue and red pop also are on the menu. Gospel singing, which played a role in the spiritual lives of the slaves, will be featured.
"That's how the slaves communicated," said Annie Davenport, another organizer. "They weren't allowed to talk to each other."
Church and community choirs interested in performing during the festivities should call (330) 369-3828.
No alcohol is permitted at the event.
For all people
Organizers stress that Juneteenth isn't an observance restricted to black people. White people, such as those who participated in the Underground Railroad, celebrated the end of slavery as well.
"We want our young people to remember," Franklin said. "Things weren't just handed to them. We worked for 200 years for absolutely nothing. It's important to remember our heritage."
Franklin, Roper and Davenport aren't sure why the event hasn't spread to Warren before now.
"It just took some people who had some initiative," Franklin said. "We hope that it will grow every year."

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