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Juneteenth celebrations to mark Texas' embrace of emancipation

Austin Juneteenth celebrations kicked off Saturday on the corner of 12th Street and Chicon with a neighborhood cleaning project organized by The Central Texas Juneteenth Committee.

Volunteers of the annual Green and Clean Neighborhood Project were led by the Greater East Austin Youth Association, which consists of volunteers from Austin-area businesses and nonprofits excited to further the growth and promotion of the annual African-American history and culture celebrations.

Tuesday marks the official observance of Emancipation Day in Austin, a reminder of June 19, 1865, the day Texans finally got word of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all of the slaves in the United States. (History buffs will recall that Lincoln actually signed the Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Somehow Texas did not hear about it until two years, five months and 18 days after it was declared...)

Even after the original Emancipation Day, Juneteenth has been an uphill battle for recognition as an official holiday. Celebrations were originally met with resistance from the majority of Texans, and black community members were forced to celebrate on private property, which became known as "emancipation grounds."

The first public Juneteenth celebration in Austin was not to be seen until 1930. That party was held at Rosewood Park at Pleasant Valley and Rosewood, which is where it still takes place today. In 1980 — 117 years after the initial Emancipation Proclamation — Juneteenth was declared an official state holiday in Texas.

Clearly, there is plenty to celebrate in Austin this year, and the Juneteenth Committee has been busy coordinating events for the entire family from morning til night on Tuesday.

Runners, walkers and cheerleaders will gather at the corner of Comal Street and MLK, Jr. Blvd. at 9 a.m. for the 2K Freedom Run & Walk. The event is meant to raise awareness of increasing prevalanace of health concerns in the African-American community. As it is also a Freedom event, everyone is welcome to join in, at whatever speed they feel comfortable.

At 10 a.m., the kid-friendly Historical Parade will begin at the same intersection and travel along MLK, Chicon and Rosewood Avenue. Local businesses and nonprofits have been building floats and will travel along the parade route, along with area bands, musicians, clowns and classic cars.

The parade will make a route to the Doris Miller Auditorium on the edge of Rosewood Park for the Historical Community Program at 12:15 p.m. Here, prominent members of the black community will deliver keynote addresses before welcoming singers, poets and dancers to observe the spiritual side of the event.

Afterward, everyone is invited to stay for the all-day Juneteenth Park Celebration at historical Rosewood Park from noon until 9 p.m. Food vendors, kids' rides and games and free music will keep the party going long into the evening. This is a special time of fellowship and community that everyone is welcome to attend.

Juneteenth performances and celebrations continue into the next week as well at Doris Miller Auditorium. A Gospel and Praise Dance takes place on June 23, and Juneteenth Gospel Fest happens June 24. Both events will feature local and touring performers. 

While the Juneteenth fun is scheduled primarily on Tuesday, the goodwill and celebration doesn't have to be limited to just one day. We Texans proved a bit slow on getting the message out 100 years ago, but now it's time to enjoy the good times together.

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