Juneteenth celebrations continue to grow in downtown Salisbury

Published 12:05 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

SALISBURY — The 29th annual Juneteenth celebrations provided music, fun, food and history from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday evening.

The kickoff event for the half-week of festivities was the Juneteenth Celebration, held at the Bell Tower Green in Salisbury from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

The event is coordinated by the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP, who fully took over that role six years ago. President Gemale Black said that in his time working with the event, it was originally hosted in the parking lot where the Bell Tower Green currently is before moving away while the park was being built. The event then moved back into the space once it reopened.

“This is where everyone comes together, we wanted to have this event and be where the community is connected,” said Black.

This year, the event had approximately 65 vendors register, which Black said was a small step up from prior years. He said that the organization was expecting a similar turnout to prior years, with approximately 5,000 people attending.

“It means a tremendous amount to be able to put this on. We put a lot of work into bringing together a diverse crowd. We want this to be not just for African Americans but for all races,” said Black.

Black said that all of the money made from the event, primarily from vendor fees, went back into helping fund the next Juneteenth celebration and that the organization made no profit.

Juneteenth is often referred to as a celebration of emancipation or the freeing of slaves in America, but the truth is more specific.

The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, freed slaves in Confederate states. The adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution came later, being passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864 and by the House on Jan. 31, 1865. The joint resolution of both bodies that submitted the amendment to the states for approval was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 1, 1865.

However, the fact remains that all slaves in Confederate states, including Texas, were technically free. But that was nearly impossible to enforce in states still under the Confederate States of America’s control. In the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be freed until June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free by executive decree. And Juneteenth was born.

The day has grown from a Texas celebration into a national holiday, and 2024 marks the fourth year since the holiday was given federal status by President Joe Biden in 2021. However, the Salisbury community had celebrated the day for 25 years before it was given the federal significance.

“Our ancestors, they would have to go off into the woods at night and pray and celebrate and sing and talk amongst each other. They had to go into hiding. But today, here we are celebrating out in public. Celebrating our heritage, celebrating our culture, celebrating our freedom, when just a block over, there was a slave owner. Well, here we are today openly celebrating our freedom with our allies and with our friends and I’m so grateful for a day like this,” said Salisbury City Council Member Anthony Smith.