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Juneteenth celebrates 150 years of freedom

By From page A1 | June 16, 2013

The only expectation of this year’s Juneteenth celebration in Davis is for it to exceed expectations, since it memorializes the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Event coordinators Jay Johnstone and Sandy Holman are set to welcome the entire Yolo County community to the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St., for its commemoration. Festivities will transpire from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Juneteenth, which is short for June 19th, is a remembrance of that particular date in 1865. On that day, 2,000 Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas, intent on enforcing the abolition of slavery.

It had been more than two years since President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The day is a celebration of the bonds officially being broken for more than 3.5 million people.

Holman, who besides organizing the event is a founder of Davis’ Culture Co-op, said it’s a moment in history that’s worth getting together for — no matter your ethnicity or background.

“It’s about people coming together to celebrate another Independence Day that’s not always as well-known,” she said. “We’re trying to keep it alive in Yolo County’s active community.”

The planned activities of the free-to-attend event will be spread between Veterans’ Memorial Center and the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., where the first Davis indoor celebration was held in 2011.

Johnstone, who is in charge of the Stephens Branch Library, recalls being touched when an elderly woman approached him to say how she appreciated having an event inside, out of the summer’s heat.

But Johnstone also remembers the previously unforeseen amount of people who also considered it a good idea and challenged the library’s capacity, forcing a change of venue to Woodland in 2012.

“We had 400 show up, and quickly reached our capacity,” Johnstone said. “We had people in the parking lot, in the lobby. That’s why we’re moving it to the Veterans’ Memorial Center, because we’re expecting more this year.

“I would guess double (the amount of attendees),” he added, “because of all the added attractions and entertainment we’ll have.”

Per usual, the celebration will get underway with a potluck that consists of traditional soul food. For those who arrive later, offerings of Southern-style barbecue will still be on the menu, courtesy of a local vendor.

Also to be expected: the funk, jazz and soul music of local bands (Bayonnes Big Bang, Calvin Handy, Al Zaid and more); arts-and-crafts vendors; children’s educational activities, such as letting kids try their hands at quilt-making; a tribute to recently deceased local leaders; an appearance by Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza; a book raffle giveaway; and a “Hats Off to the Ancestors” hat fashion show.

Phew.

The day’s educational aspect will be bolstered by a presentation from Diane Evans — a civil rights advocate whose efforts were recognized at the Davis City Hall earlier this year — about the mass migration out of Africa.

There also will be representatives of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. They will be dressed in their military regalia.

“It’s really exciting for the kids to see that,” Holman said, “They’re walking history. And, unfortunately, a lot of the Tuskegee Airmen — and others entrenched in that history — are dying off.”

But the celebration itself would not have been made possible without the sponsorship of Friends of the Davis Public Library, the city of Davis and the Culture Co-op, Holman added.

Partnering once more in the Davis event’s organization are “We People,” Blacks for Effective Community Action, AllStar Action Team and the African-American Committee.

“But our biggest support comes from private donors,” Johnstone explained, “most of which wanted to remain anonymous.”

Tax-deductible donations for the celebration may be made online by visiting davislibraryfriends.org, and selecting the “Juneteenth donation” button.

Holman’s primary goal in organizing the festivities is simply having people attend, and learn about Juneteenth. Her outlook on it is that there’s plenty of merriment to be experienced for anyone.

“I describe it as a cozy — but we’ll see if I get surprised (Saturday) — and family friendly event,” she said. “Even if you don’t know the people there, everyone is so easy to get along with and is having such a good time.

“We have black people, white people, Latinos; it’s a nice mix. … This is not just an important holiday to remember a piece of African-American history — it’s everyone’s history.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

Brett Johnson

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