Communities across Mississippi are gearing up for celebrations to recognize Juneteenth. The events mark when slaves received word they were free.
January 1,1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the United States. Two years later on June 19,1865, Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, the last state to enforce freeing slaves. Since then, African Americans in Texas, have celebrated the day they learned they were free. The event, called Juneteenth, has spread across the country. Hattiesburg has held a Juneteenth celebration for 35 years according to organizer Rev. Ray Smith.
"We would like for people to become aware of their history and take that history and use it to build bridges and network between all races and colors. It's a mechanism for healing.
Smith expects more than 5,000 people at Vernon Dahmer Park tomorrow where they'll be music, food, a car show and activities. He says speakers will explain the significance of the event and provide handbooks. Brad Franklin says he began a celebration in Jackson three years ago with the help of two women originally from Wisconsin who moved to Mississippi. He says this year they've added an awards gala.
"We will be honoring people who have been doing great works in the community. Saturday is the festival and the parade," said Franklin.
Franklin says the focus isn't on slavery but making progress.
"It's not celebrating the bad. It's actually celebrating the good and the opening of a new chapter in this country," said Franklin.
Tupelo, Meridan and Biloxi are among the Mississippi cities hosting celebrations.