Woldert Park was filled Saturday with the joyful laughter of kids playing tag, the thunderous engines of about a dozen corvettes and the smell of hot dogs grilling on a typical sweltering summer day in Texas.
The annual Juneteenth holiday celebration saw thousands come out to commemorate the watershed moment in which Texas slaves found out that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, effectively abolishing slavery. Due to the tortoise-like speed with which information traveled during the period, it wasn’t until 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston and declared the Proclamation’s decree.
The holiday started the following year in 1866, with black families across the state celebrating the anniversary and it continually spread through parts of the South over the years. Juneteenth has not yet been recognized as a national holiday, but multiple politicians, such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, have pushed for its recognition.
The festive celebration at Woldert Park was the culmination of two days’ worth of commemoration. The festivities kicked off Friday, with the Gospel Explosion concert at People’s Missionary Baptist Church and continued Saturday morning with a parade, both put on by the Juneteenth Association of Tyler.
Alva Rand, a volunteer with the Juneteenth Association of Tyler, said before she moved to Lindale, she thought the holiday was no longer celebrated.
“I enjoy seeing people coming to celebrate Juneteenth because I thought it had ended,” Rand said. “But I see that the significance is still there, especially for black people.”
Rand is a first-year volunteer with the association and she said that it has been a good experience for her, but wished the community would be more unified in the future.
“Many of us have the same hardships as far as being minorities,” Rand said. Melissa Green, a fellow first-year volunteer with the association, echoed that sentiment.
Green, who is fluent in Spanish, translates for the Hispanic community in North Tyler. She said that many Hispanic people don’t know the significance of Juneteenth so she tries to educate them about it. She said the celebrating the anniversary is important in not only unifying the community, but also in order to reconcile the generational gap between youth and their elders.
“We need to do more positive things to engage the youth,” Green said. “We need to save the youth and show them positive things so they’re not on the street selling drugs.”
“They are our future,” Green said.
H.L. Hunt contends, however, that some 151 years after the abolition of slavery, Juneteenth has lost its impact.
“All this is dead to me,” Hunt said.
Hunt, a native of Palestine, said he moved to Tyler in 1960 and has been attending the Juneteenth celebration for years. However, he has noticed that it is not true to the tradition he grew up with where the holiday was centralized around the community coming together for a church service. He said that over the years he has not noticed any progression in the community, only more division.
Green and Rand remained optimistic of their efforts to unify the community through the Juneteenth celebration.
“I would like to see more unity with more cultures involved,” Green said.
“When people understand each other, they will not be so critical of one another,” Rand said, because we are all here by the grace of God.”