Diann Beasley, of Tyler, spent a drizzly Saturday morning riding on the back of a flatbed truck filled with squirming children, a watchful eye on the cloudy sky and her precious cargo.
She was among a group of about 20 people representing The Upper Door Post Church, 1504 E. Travis, who showed up to join Tyler’s annual Juneteenth parade and picnic at Woldert Park.
Early morning showers moved through the area before daybreak, leaving behind sporadic sprinkles and relief from many celebration participants, including Ms. Beasley.
“My job is to make sure nobody falls off,” she said. “I did think it was a going to rain, but then about 6:45 this morning, a little bit of sun starting peeking out. As long as it doesn’t rain on my parade, we’ll be all right.”
Little Ollie Johnson, 7, didn’t seem to fully grasp the meaning behind the occasion, but she did understand her role in the event.
“I’m supposed to do this,” the child said, waving a small American flag. “It feels kind of good.”
Historically, Juneteenth celebrations commemorate the 1865 announcement of the ending of slavery.
Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation in September 1862, effective January 1863, it took about two years before word of the change spread to Texas.
Tyler’s annual observation of the occasion also is intended to be a celebration of freedom and human rights, Rosie L. Johnson, Juneteenth Association of Tyler treasurer, said.
The festivities kicked off Friday with a gospel musical at New Life Community Church and continued bright and early Saturday with the parade.
Association chair Jack Garrett said more than 700 people signed up to participate in the procession.
Hundreds of people lined the parade route that started at Glenwood Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and ended at Woldert Park off 32nd Street.
Garrett said the association was geared up to feed about 4,000 people at the park.
The march included a variety of entrants, from motorcycles and music to horses and hot rods, some traveling from as far as Dallas, Houston and beyond to attend, organizers said.
Hot rod enthusiast Tommy Goosby, 53, brought his 1969 Dodge pickup in from Louisiana to join in. The classic vehicle has been a work in progress for about five years.
“Having this is better than having a girlfriend because you never have to worry about it cheating on you,” he teased. “And no, it’s not for sale.”
Classic car enthusiast Charles Erwin, 64, of Tyler, and his dachshund, Paco, drove a replica of a 1948 MG in the parade.
“I call it ‘Doc,’” he said. “I got it from Doc Lester about 30 years ago. … It is part of the family.”
Several cars away, Miss Texas East Chancee Crawford, representing Church of God in Christ, was peeking out the sunroof of a SUV driven by James Moreland, of Tyler.
“This is a good way to represent our church,” she said from atop the vehicle.
Moreland seemed more focused on avoiding calamity.
“No, I’ve never done this before,” he said with a grin. “But we have a game plan. We’re going to drive slow.”
There were plenty of spectators along the parade route.
LeRoy Johnson’s grill was piping hot before the marchers even passed.
He was enjoying a ringside seat from his front year, alongside childhood friend, Danny Rose, both 54.
“I love coming here,” Rose said. “We’ve seen all the parades, since about 1978.”
Johnson said, “I mostly like seeing the motorcycles and the Corvettes.”
Across the street, retiree Bernice Broyles huddled under an umbrella to avoid the drizzle.
“I’m enjoying it, even in the rain,” she said. “I came prepared.”
The parade ended at Woldert Park where several thousand people gathered to enjoy lunch and an afternoon filled with activities.
“In the past we have had 8,000 to 9,000 people (at the parade and picnic combined), and this year we are expecting the same or more,” Ms. Johnson said.
Brookshire’s Grocery and Super 1 Foods provided free food and drinks for the occasion.
Volunteers Edward Gordon, Ken Hampton, Clay Skinner got up early to load and distribute 1,848 bottles of complimentary drinking water along the parade route while Richard Powell donated his truck to haul it in.
Jibreel Battles, of Houston, lent his sense of humor to the occasion.
“I donated my good looks,” he said. “They looked like they needed a little help.”
Battles said he was born and raised in Tyler, but returned for Juneteenth to see old friends and make new ones.
“I’m available,” he said. “I’m also on Facebook if anyone is interested.”