Juneteenth celebrations are held around the U.S. in urban and rural settings. Videos and photos of these events are included below, along with a description of the written history of Juneteenth, as well as, an oral history of the June Dinner celebration and parade in Wilmar, Arkansas.
"June 19; a holiday commemorating the emancipation of the slaves. Juneteenth began on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, with a regiment of Union army soldiers and read General Order No. 3, which began with these two memorial sentences: 'The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free...'" ("Juneteenth" entry by William H. Wiggins, Jr. in An American Forklore: An Encyclopedia).
The abolition of slavery in Texas, Emancipation Day, June 19, 1865, was years after Abraham Lincoln issued an Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Yet with this announcement in 1865, it began what we know as the early celebrations of Juneteenth events in parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. It has since expanded around the U.S. I've included a few online videos of Juneteenth parades held in 2019 in Richmond, California; Austin, Texas; Buffalo, New York; Omaha, Nebraska; San Francisco, California.
History of a small town's June Dinner/Juneteenth
One particular Juneteenth celebration, also known as June Dinner, in Wilmar, Arkansas, a town of around 500, has drawn annual crowds for their parade and festivities. In late 2000's I talked with local residents about the origins of their celebration. Here is an excerpt from my writings:
"Although the Wilmar event has been celebrated by generations of local African American, there was no written documentation of how it began. Local residents curious about its origins started collecting the oral histories of older Wilmar residents. Toni Perry, co-organizer of the event, conducted interviews with the grandfather (born 1889) of local resident Aaron Crowder, and Alex Wood (born 1902) who both concurred that the event was happening when they were young. According to these interviews and others, a history of June Dinner was pieced together.
This history collected by local resident oral historians was told to an Arkansas newspaper reporter who wrote, 'A white man from New Orleans whose last name was Ragland settled in the Wilmar area near Ozment Bluff during Drew Country’s early settlement days. Ragland brought four or five slaves with him, one of whom was separated from his wife and family and sold to a plantation owner in Texas. Once the slave, known as ‘John Ragland,’ was freed in 1865, it is said to have taken him two or three years to make his way back to Wilmar. During this time, Texas had begun celebrating June 19 and Ragland took part in the celebrations. It is possible that he was one of the original organizers' (Riggin, Amy. 2006. Wilmar to celebrate Juneteenth. Pine Bluff Commercial, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. June 16: 3A).
Hence, local oral historians believed that when John Ragland was freed, he returned to Wilmar in 1867 or 1868 and began organizing the June Dinner (T. Perry Interview June 16, 2006 by T. Graham)."
Although there are many Juneteenth celebrations around the U.S. today, the small town celebrations offer something a little different. With Wilmar's June Dinner, there is this community with a connection to 1860's slave history and 20th century segregated society (festivities held around the former black school grounds). This festive event tries to not only bring awareness to a history, but also creates a space where African American culture, history, and people are celebrated.
June Dinner parade
I've included a few photos and video interview from 2006 of the June Dinner parade. The parade was first added in 1976 for the Bicentennial Year and has evolved from what Toni Perry, co-organizer, described in 2006 as "really country” with small with bicycles decorated with crepe paper, people in old clothes being a clown, a guy playing a drum in the back of a truck, and lots of people marching around (T. Perry Interview June 16, 2006 with T. Graham). This contrasts with the more recent parades of fire truck, police cars, politicians, pageant queens, Girl Scouts, businesses, churches, motorcycle clubs, reunion families, and groups and individuals on all modes of transportation filling the street.
In memory of Terry Jones, who passed away in 2015, I'd like to mention what he said about the parade. He usually did not like to draw attention to himself and his community work.
When asked how and why he was inclined to help organize the event, he said that it started with the parade. After watching a parade that seemed to “last five minutes” he said that he thought he could “do something to make it bigger and better” (T. Jones Interview June 16, 2006). He said at that time the Pioneer Club was organizing the event. He asked them if he could help with the parade. Then the next year they had a “big nice parade and that’s how I got started” (T. Jones Interview June 16, 2006). Then when asked why he continues to work on the event. He said, “Mainly, I do it for the kids and the people who’ve come from out of town driving from Chicago, Detroit, Washington. It has been going on for years I’m talking 100 years right here in Wilmar. I do it for the people who are coming home so they have something to do when they get here. When they come home [other times], there is nothing going on. At least they can come home [now] and enjoy some free entertainment and visit with other people coming home at the same time” (T. Jones Interview June 16, 2006 with T. Graham).
Wilmar Juneteenth Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JuneDinner/
Wiggins, Jr., William H. 1982.'''They Closed the Town Up, Man!' Reflections on the Civic and Political Dimensions of Juneteenth' in Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual, ed. Victor Turner
Wiggins, Jr., William H. 1998. "Juneteenth" in American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, ed. Jan Harold Brunand
Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore. 2010. eds. Francis Edward Abernethy, Patrick B. Mullen, Allen B. Govenar
Gates, Jr. , Henry Lewis. "What is Juneteenth" PBS website https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/
Anon. 2008. Annual June Dinner celebration starts Thursday. Advance Monticellonian, Monticello, Arkansas, June 18. http://www.mymonticellonews.net
Riggin, Amy. 2006. Wilmar to celebrate Juneteenth. Pine Bluff Commercial, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. June 16: 3A
Riley, Chris. 2005. Wilmar-country news section. Advance Monticellonian, Monticello,Arkansas. June 22:6B-7B
Graham, Tiff research interviews, photos, videos 2006-2009
Fergusen, Wes 2019 "Why this Mexican Village Celebrates Juneteenth" in Texas Monthly https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/mexican-village-juneteenth-celebration/
Richmond, CA Juneteenth parade and celebration 2019 by Mike Aldax and Mike Kinney https://richmondstandard.com/richmond/2019/06/15/photos-richmond-juneteenth-celebration/
Austin, TX Juneteenth parade 2019 by KUT Austin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR-JEvKPXKU
Buffalo, NY Juneteenth parade 2019 by 93.7 WBLK https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLk5kNh2gb8
Omaha, NE Juneteenth parade 2019 by KMTV 3 News https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG8IEqTNo3I
San Francisco, CA Juneteenth parade 2019 by Kevin Syoza https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3mkXIemk6s