TUPELO • Over fifty people came out on Saturday to celebrate Juneteenth, which started with an 11 a.m. parade at the C.C. Augustus Center, followed by a festival at 1 p.m. in Gumtree Park.
The event was sponsored and organized by local minister Conway Goree, who said he saw a need for people to know their heritage.
“For a lot of years, I didn’t know (Juneteenth) was an event, so we want to raise awareness in the community so everybody can know what Juneteenth is all about and what it stems from,” Goree said.
Juneteenth is an African American holiday that takes place on June 19. It the date in 1865, when the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas.
The first step Goree took to plan the 2019 Juneteenth celebration in Tupelo was to call Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis to get her involved. Davis was the parade’s grand marshal. Her car followed three motorcyclists to start the parade. Over 25 cars representing local area candidates for office and nonprofit group Life Saver present. The parade also featured two horse carriages and five individual horse riders.
Davis was part of a committee of about 12 who planned the event for six months. Goree said meetings for specific parade details began two to three months ago. For Davis, she wanted to become involved to celebrate how much it meant to be free. She specifically wanted millenials to be aware of the advancements black people have made in society.
“I participated in the Civil Rights movement,” Davis said. “I went to school in the 60s and I went to jail for trying to sit at the lunch counter. Now, young people can go anywhere they want to and eat anywhere they want to.”
Goree said he wanted the parade to stimulate a mix of old and new, and he wanted the horses present to give local town kids a chance to interact with animals.
Since she works with many activities in the African American community, Davis said she wanted to help with the arrangements and advertisements of the event. She said this year’s event was influenced by 20 years of Juneteenth celebrations that didn’t take place every year. Last year’s celebration was delayed by weather twice, and Davis said this year they decided to take some of the ideas from last year and implement it this year.
One of the new things implemented this year was giving away a $500 scholarship, Goree said. The scholarship was given away by raffle. There were no GPA requirements, but there was a requirement the winner go to higher education. Additional prizes included a $100 raffle every hour starting at 2 p.m. until the end of the festival.
“It’s one of the great things I think we are doing for the community. It’s a lot about the community for us,” Goree said.
The festival featured singing, vendors and music from DJ Doc J. Local candidates, preachers and elected officials also gave speeches throughout the day.
The goal for next year’s event is to be bigger and better, Goree said. There are already talks about having a Juneteenth queen for next year’s festival, and Goree plans to continue awarding scholarships next year in order to give back to the community.