Annual picnic marks Juneteenth

Posted Monday, Jun. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Abraham Lincoln


More information Juneteenth 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday McClendon Park West 799 W. Broad St. Free; bring a side dish or dessert to share

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People who didn’t grow up in Texas might not know what Juneteenth is or what it celebrates. Brenda and Norman Norwood have been trying to rectify that for the past 27 years.

“Texas was the last state to tell the slaves they were free,” said Brenda Norwood, who organizes the Mansfield event along with her husband and friends. “We are going to talk about how it all came about and how they came to celebrate.”

According to, the event marks June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed in Galveston to deliver the news that the war was over and the slaves had been free for two and a half years, since President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Explanations for the delay in the news have ranged from a murdered messenger to slave owners who kept the news secret to troops waiting until the last cotton crop was harvested, according to the website.

“You hear it different ways,” Norwood said. “Nobody knows the true account.”

But those freed slaves remembered and celebrated with family reunions, picnics and barbecues, including in Mansfield.

“I was brought up with Juneteenth celebrations where Bethlehem Baptist is now,” Norwood said. “We played ball, ate and had a lot of fun.”

Norwood’s cousin, Bobby Jackson, remembers those days, too.

“I didn’t know anything about it, I just knew that it was set aside for blacks until later years,” Jackson said.

Those celebrations began to die, though.

“As I got older, people started getting away from it,” Norwood said. “It became more commercial. When we got married, Norman and I decided to see if we could revive it.”

In the first few years, it was just the Norwoods, their family and friends, but the Mansfield celebration has grown, attracting 600 people last year.

“The more the merrier,” Norwood said. “The more people you can give an awareness.”

And it’s not just a “black thing” anymore, she said.

“It’s a people thing,” Norwood said. “What affects me affects you. We need to be aware of one another’s history and come together.”

Even the city has recognized the huge picnic, allocating a portion of the hotel/motel tax dollars to Mansfield’s Juneteenth.

This year’s party will include bounce houses, history lesson, line dancing, a disc jockey, pinata, door prizes, sno cones and a raffle for a television set. And a lot of food, which has been one of the biggest draws since the celebration began. Admission is free, but everyone is asked to bring a side dish or dessert to share.

“Whatever you think you can bring,” Norwood said. “If you can’t bring anything, bring yourself.”

Jackson said now he understands the meaning of the day.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I realize what the struggle was about.

“I enjoy the fellowship with different people in the community,” Jackson said. “When I was young, it was set aside for blacks. Now everybody celebrates.”

Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451 Twitter: @AmandaRogersNM

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