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Juneteenth Celebration To Be Held At Jenkins Institute June 20
6/17/2015 2:37:46 PM

By Barney Blakeney

This year’s annual Juneteenth celebration at Jenkins Institute at 3923 Azalea Dr. in North Charleston June 20 will have a somewhat different flavor. For the first time in its 18-year history the celebration will be coordinated by a group other than the Lowcountry Juneteenth Association. This year’s celebration is coordinated by Nia Productions.

In the past, participation in the day-long celebration previously held at Hampton Park in downtown Charleston fluctuated. The celebration initially flourished then diminished. City restrictions mounted each year so the celebration moved in 2011 to avoid increasing restrictions from the city. In recent years it has regained its strength. But attracting a committee to coordinate the celebration remains challenging.

As in previous years the celebration will include food and business vendors, music, art, educational information, medical information and screenings, African drumming and dance, games and activities for children and storytelling. But Sara Nesbit of Nia Productions says this year the focus will be on youth for distinct reasons - to impart the history of the celebration and to encourage more young people to get involved in its perpetuation.

The Juneteenth celebration held in over 200 American cities and as a state holiday in several states, first was held in Charleston in 1995 after the now defunct Local Organizing Council of Elders initiated it. Juneteenth celebrates the date (June 19, 1865) that Black slaves in Texas learned of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which had been written three years earlier.

Texas became a refuge for slave holders during the Civil War and word about their freedom was kept from slaves. In most western states, Juneteenth is celebrated as the time slaves learned they had been set free.

The celebration has gotten good support in the past. Hundreds attended. But Nesbit expects this year’s three-hour celebration being held from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. will attract fewer participants. With greater emphasis on youth involvement, she hopes it again will attract more people.

“Juneteenth is important because there were enslaved people in Texas and Louisiana who still were denied their freedom two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. We celebrate Juneteenth because we want people everywhere to know our ancestors remained in bondage for this additional two year period. And we want them to know we remain in bondage in various ways today,” Nesbit said.

This year’s celebration is made possible partly through a grant to the Gullah Geechee Group, Inc. from the City of Charleston. Gullah Geechee Group President Sherry Suttles said, “We thank the City of Charleston for its grant and invite the public to enjoy, learn and help plan for future celebrations.”

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