Almost a century and a half after Texas blacks learned they were free, some residents are still celebrating.
On Saturday, Mansfield’s annual Juneteenth celebration will commemorate the anniversary with bounce houses, lots of food and a serving of history.
“Juneteenth is all new for me,” said Brenda Steele, who helps organize the event. “I’m from Iowa. I never heard about Juneteenth until I came here. My husband knew because he was born in Pampa, Texas. Still, people ask why are we celebrating slavery. Claude will stop them and say it’s much, much more. We want people to remember where they came from and that they are standing on other people’s shoulders.”
On June 19, 1865, Union troops led by Major Gen. Gordon Granger landed in Galveston and spread the news that the slaves were free, two and a half years after Pres. Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. For decades, blacks in Texas celebrated the anniversary with picnics, family reunions, rodeos, barbecues and baseball games. The tradition began to die out during the Civil Rights movement, but has since regained some of its popularity.
Brenda and Norman Norwood reignited the Mansfield tradition 29 years ago, starting mainly with family members in the first few years, but growing to approximately 600 participants last year.
“It was a tradition for us coming up as kids,” said Norman Norwood. “We moved away from home and it stopped.”
Brenda Norwood, a Mansfield native and retired teacher, says it’s important that the tradition continue.
“These children need to know the history,” she said. “This not only helped black people, it helped all of us. What affects you, affects me as well. We want to leave a valuable legacy.”
Even as the event has grown, organizers have refused to charge admission or fees.
“It’s not commercial,” Norman Norwood said. “As you get older, you have to give back. It’s for anybody that wants to come. It’s a good feeling when you walk around and everybody is having a good time.”
While the event at McClendon Park West is free, participants are asked to bring a dish to share. There will be plenty of food, including chicken, barbecue and snow cones. Games, raffles, pinata, disc jockey, a Native American archery exhibition and bounce houses are also planned.
Steele’s husband, Claude, will also explain the history of the event.
“Claude and I are trying to do some type of play this time,” Steele said. “I’d like to get the audience more involved in the history aspect of it. We love to try to do something different every time.”