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June 19, 2014

Juneteenth celebration to highlight diversity in the community

Athens — On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech known as the Emancipation Proclamation. In this proclamation President Lincoln declared "that all persons held as slaves, are, and henceforward shall be free."

The proclamation had little impact on Texans, because of the presence of minimal Union troops within the state to enforce the new Executive Order.

On June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered, Union forces, led by Major Gen. Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with news of war’s end, and that the enslaved were free.

As General Lee surrendered, Texas slave masters lost influence, and Union soldiers and slaves overcame the resistance against the proclamation.

Several stories try and account for the 2-year delay, but whether or not any of them hold truth is not known. The point is that African Americans were no longer bound by slavery. 

Today, the descendants of these slaves celebrate June 19 as the end of slavery in Texas and across the nation, and you can see why. Although the proclamation was delivered two years earlier, the slaves in Texas toiled for another two years, and thus slavery had not ended in 1863, but in 1865.

Juneteenth celebrations are on the rise, and rightfully so. As with many other celebrated days in the United States, it is a way, not only for African Americans to celebrate their freedom and heritage, but a time for communities and people of all colors to come together, and celebrate a cause that unites us all as Americans.

Many of us celebrate and come together on Cinco De Mayo, which is a day celebrated for the Mexican army's unlikely victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, and on July 4 to celebrate America's independence from Great Britain.

The Henderson County Black Rodeo Association was aware of the need to celebrate this day in our county, as festivals and events to celebrate other cultures have existed in the county for years. The goal of these celebrations is to bring people of all races together while celebrating the African American culture.

The word "Black" in the organization’s name, their annual rodeos and festivals is not a way to exclude anyone, but a dedication to the first African American cowboy, William “Bill” Pickett.

Bill and his horse, Spradley, invented the rodeo sport of steer wrestling, also known as bulldogging. He introduced the world to the new sport while performing as the first black cowboy in the 101 Ranch Show in the early 1900s.

It wasn't until 1989 that William "The Bull-Dogger" Pickett was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, 149 years after the end of slavery in Texas, and 50 years after the Civil Rights Act that ended segregation, racism is very much alive and real. It comes from people of all races aimed at people of all races.

Henderson County Black Rodeo Association Events Coordinator Toni Johnson described it this way, "People of all colors have been enslaved, either in their mind or physical bodies at one point or another," said Toni. "My whole thing is people. It doesn't matter what color you are. We are about community and people of all races. Our motto is "Unity through Diversity," people of all colors."

The Henderson County Black Rodeo Association held its 3rd Annual Juneteenth Black Rodeo last Saturday, June 14, and nearly sold out the Henderson County Fairpark Complex. The crowd was large and diverse, and the event was wholesome fun for the entire family. Attendance was down this year, because of what the Fairpark Complex described as a scheduling mistake, said Toni.

“Attendance was a little low, due to the change of the date,” said Toni. “After asking for the third week in June, and getting it, they (Fairpark Complex) gave the date to the quarter horse show.  That is why attendance was down. We were locked in, but they said they made a mistake. Just another hurdle, but that opened the door for us to have this event (the upcoming parade). Attendance was down by exactly 865 people from last year, but it's been said that this was the best year ever here in Athens.  We jumped on another organization’s date that has trail rides on the week before our rodeo that they had changed so they could be at our rodeo. So it was a hurdle for sure, but we overcame it."

This Saturday, June 21, HCBRA will hold their 1st Annual Juneteenth Parade and Festival. The parade starts at 1 p.m. at Trinity Valley Community College, and will feature cars, trucks, floats, drill teams, riding clubs, bands and organizations.  The parade route will leave Trinity Valley Community College, turn left on State Highway 19 through town, and cross the tracks and take a right on Needmore to the Fisher High Alumni Building.

HCBRA is inviting people to line up along the route for best viewing of the parade. Parade registration will be at the staging area, if not pre-registered. 

The free Community Family Fun Festival starts at 2 p.m. at the Fisher High Alumni Facility featuring food (free watermelon), games, bounce houses, music, an open-mic talent show (register at the event), mechanical bull-riding contest and more. The Fisher High Alumni building is located at 910 Needmore St. in Athens.

Come out this weekend and celebrate diversity. Regardless of the color of your skin, everyone is in this world together, and have enough to worry about without thinking less of each other because of race.

People of all colors have done extraordinary things for this country that we live in. Let us unite and celebrate the unique qualities of not only our own particular race, but also as the one race we all share:  The human race.  

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