HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's a special year to celebrate Juneteenth for Texas, as it's now a federal holiday and Emancipation Park marks its 150th anniversary.
Houston is doing it big, especially with our area being at the center of this monumental point in history. There are multiple local events to help the public learn more about the history of Juneteenth, celebrate the achievements of our Black community members, and support local artists and musicians.
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln freed enslaved people in Confederate states in 1863. It was a measure meant to punish the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War and did not cover enslaved Africans in border states.
It also failed to free those held in bondage in Texas. That would not come until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas and issued General Order #3. Popular belief is that the enslaved Africans in Texas did not know about the Emancipation Proclamation until Granger's announcement. Sunday marks 157 years since that momentous day in history.
"Don't forget about what emancipation means, because it's important in our lives. Don't forget about what freedom means, because it's important every day in our lives. But we must remember that we will not remain free, if we don't understand what freedom is about," said Jacqueline Bostic Saturday on the first day of the Juneteenth Festival at Emancipation Park.
Bostic is the great-granddaughter of Jack Yates, who is dubbed as the "Father of Black Houston," and was the founding pastor of the Historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in the Freedmen's Town area of the Fourth Ward. It became the area's first African American Baptist church and helped purchase land for Emancipation Park.
At least three events happen on Sunday throughout the city for Juneteenth. At 10:30 a.m., Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee will join community leaders in a community-wide prayer service at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. Lee has spent the last decade pushing Juneteenth to become a federal holiday. Last year, President Joe Biden officially recognized the date as a federal holiday.
"There's way more celebrations behind it now and it's a federal holiday, so it means freedom, diversity, and inclusion with African Americans," said Evesta Payne.
At 4:00 p.m., the second and final day of the Juneteenth Festival will take place at Emancipation Park. The agenda includes live performances on two stages, lectures and educational programs, interactive kids' zones with rides and activities, a cooling zone, food vendors, and a fireworks display to close the celebration. Although admission is free, organizers say the enthusiasm from the community to celebrate this year is so great that tickets to the event are sold out.
"Let's prepare the future generations bearing in mind those who have paid the price, made the sacrifice ... those slaves. Now we are free. Happy Juneteenth, everybody!" said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
In 1872, four former enslaved people bought the 10-acre land to serve as a location to celebrate Juneteenth. Until the 1950s, Emancipation Park was the only public park and swimming pool in Houston open to the Black community.
"My ancestors been set free as slaves. We have all the opportunities in the world after them going through what they went through," said Doris Margin.
Tonight at 8 p.m., a series of performances for Juneteenth: Journey to Freedom will take place at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The event will include nationally-recognized artists from the community, storytelling with visuals, educational narrations, live music, and dance performances.