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SALISBURY — Saturday’s Juneteenth event offered snow cones, Corvettes, a talent show and other festivities, but many who gathered at Kelsey Scott Park said freedom was the real reason to celebrate.
Juneteenth marks the day — June 19, 1865 — when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and enslaved people were free. It took two and a half years for word to reach Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Forty-two states now observe Juneteenth, including North Carolina, and Saturday marked the 19th annual celebration in Salisbury.
“It’s not about coming out to hear choirs or eating food or running around like the kids like to do,” Connie Campbell said. “This means something to us as black people.”
And to all people who cherish freedom. In fact, Juneteenth means so much that Campbell’s organization took over sponsorship of the event to make sure it continued. Campbell is associate matron of the Vashti Chapter No. 122 of the Order of Eastern Star.
Juneteenth was in danger of folding last year, so the chapter agreed to raise funds, organize vendors, schedule entertainment and more, Campbell said.
“So far, it’s going good,” she said just before the gospel choirs took the stage, the most anticipated event of the day.
Organizers booked more vendors than expected and had booths offering everything from baked goods to airbrushed T-shirts. Children danced in front of the stage during the first Juneteenth Apollo contest, where Danielle Burris took home the top prize in the adult category.
Elaine Hardy and husband George Hardy traveled from Greensboro to sell an herbal body wrap and said they were enjoying their first Juneteenth.
“It’s a wonderful event,” Elaine Hardy said. “The atmosphere is great.”
Dressed in matching highlighter-yellow tops, the North Rowan High School Dazzling Emeralds dance team sold chips and sodas as a fundraiser.
Young people need to know what Juneteenth really means, said Mary Young of East Spencer. Just as word of emancipation didn’t reach Texas for years, many people don’t know the importance of Juneteenth today, she said.
“I believe some people have heard the meaning, but others don’t really understand,” said Young, who sat with her family from Spencer and Asheville.
The tradition should be handed down to each generation, said Young, who supports the campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
There are several possible explanations about why it took so long for word of emancipation to reach Texas, according to the website www.juneteenth.com. Some say a messenger with news of freedom was murdered on his way to Texas.
Others say the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. Yet another explanation says federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
All or none of the versions could be true, according to the website.
The word “Juneteenth” was coined as a combination of “June” and “nineteenth.”
“It brings us all together as one,” said Alverta Simpson of Salisbury.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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