Today marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Celebrated each year on June 19, it actually marks the day when the last black slaves learned of their freedom from the Confederacy.
They received the news roughly two months after the end of the Civil War, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform the slaves of their freedom. It was also more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
Awareness of Juneteenth — also called “Freedom Day” — has grown slowly over the decades, but the commemoration has drawn more attention this year due to the nationwide civil unrest that is leading to conversations about social reform and justice for members of black communities everywhere.
Locally, the Owensboro Black Expo has led the charge in making the community more aware of Juneteenth and why it’s significant.
“Once that history started being told within our community, more and more people started celebrating Juneteenth,” said Black Expo Secretary Martiza Meeks. “We’re spreading the word because that’s what it’s about, spreading the word and enlightening one another. A lot of people had heard of it, but they didn’t quite understand the significance.”
The Black Expo is preparing to host their third annual Juneteenth celebration, though it will look different this year due to the pandemic.
They announced earlier this week there will be a drive-by parade Saturday, as well drive-up fireworks that evening to commemorate Freedom Day.
Cars will line up at Cravens Elementary School beginning at 12:40 p.m. The parade will officially begin at 1 p.m. and will be escorted by the police. The route will be a loop that includes traveling long stretches of 5th and 2nd streets as well as Carter Road.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, there will be a fireworks show at 4th Street Baptist Church in the parking lot.
Both events are open to the public.
Meeks said a lot of eyes are on them right now because of the momentum with the Black Lives Matter movement, so the Black Expo is hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to educate people who show up Saturday.
“We’re going to have some educational tidbits to share on Saturday during the parade,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s educational as well for our kids. It’s not something they’ve ever learned in school, and we pray that changes because in order for us to grow as a society we have to face the full, comprehensive history of our nation.”
Meeks said they are working hard behind the scenes to make change and create progress in the fight for equality.
“We’re hopeful. We’re not angry, we’re passionate about justice,” she said. “We’re passionate about education and we’re passionate about having a seat at the table.”
The Black Expo is still working in other ways to support the black community, including creating a platform for people to voice any concerns as well as maintaining a scholarship fund for local students.
Between Juneteenth and all the other things going on with Black Expo — which consistently works with other Owensboro organizations on creating change locally — Meeks said one of the primary goals is simply to help educate people.
“We have to expand the knowledge beyond just us,” she said. “We’ve known our history, we have to teach our peers our history. … Awareness breaks down the barriers. We need to make amends about slavery. Knowledge is power and everyone knows that, not just black people.”