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Juneteenth: Locals celebrate freedom

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2002

Freedom comes in many forms, and for the different groups that make up America, it came at different times.

On a sunny day in Juneau, by the shores of a deep-blue lake, freedom is sitting in lawn chairs and talking to friends, sharing food and stories. About 40 people in Juneau celebrated Juneteenth on Sunday with a barbecue at Twin Lakes organized by the Black Awareness Association.

Juneteenth, often celebrated on June 19, commemorates the date in 1865 when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger told the people of Galveston, Texas, that "all slaves are free."

It took a while for word of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed in January 1863, to reach everyone, partly because its force depended on Union military victories.

"I think it was an incredible injustice, what they did keeping the information away from the slaves in Texas," said Sherry Patterson. Juneteenth "is another day of freedom, of liberty."

"They wanted to get those cotton crops in," said James Paige. "And I don't agree with it, but I understand it."

Celebration of the holiday began in 1866 and soon spread to neighboring states of Louisiana and Arkansas, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Former slaves bought land, or "emancipation parks," for the Juneteenth gatherings.

To Dana Jones, Juneteenth means "a celebration of freedom, of liberation, of our final acceptance as citizens of the United States, finally being considered as Americans and being equal members of society."

Juneau's Black Awareness Association, a group of about 45 people, formed in 1992. Paige, one of the founders, said there wasn't a lot of socializing between blacks and other Juneau residents in the mid-1980s, when he moved here.

"The United States is a melting pot, so Juneau is a melting pot. We wanted to be accounted," Paige said. "Juneau is a nice place. I've got a lot of good to say about the place. But if people don't know you, they don't account you."

Juneteenth is less well known in Juneau than in the Lower 48, suggested Tyrone Jones, president of the Black Awareness Association. "I would venture to say a lot of people don't even know about it. Through our various churches we try to get the word out," he said.

Today, Juneteenth is commemorated as the Fourth of July often is, with family and neighborhood barbecues, and parades in larger cities. It's a multi-day event in San Francisco and some places in the South.

"We used to barbecue whole cows and pigs because we grew up in Louisiana," Paige said.

"To me, it means a time for us in the community to get together and renew old friendships and invite a lot of others who aren't aware of it," he said. "And eat good and see who cooks the best barbecue and get this settled right away. It's just a fun event."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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