The Black Educational History Exhibit’s annual celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States will be held Saturday in downtown Douglasville.
The Juneteeth celebration, which is supported by the city and county governments, will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on O’Neal Plaza with activities at the BEHE Museum in the Old Douglas County Courthouse.
On Friday night, there will be a private banquet at the Douglasville Conference Center in honor of Pfc. Melvin Johnson. BEHE is giving away three scholarships at the banquet in memory of Johnson.
The Douglas County native and graduate of R.L. Cousins High School in 1966, went to Vietnam in 1969 to serve his country during the war. He was killed on May 9, 1969 at Binh Duong Province in South Vietnam, becoming the first black soldier from Douglas County to lose his life during the war. The Anneewakee Creek bridge on Highway 166 was named for him in 2014 thanks to the efforts of BEHE, Johnson’s family and state Sen. Donzella James.
"We're trying to let the community know that we're working not only for the black people, but for everybody that has not been given recognition under something that they achieved," BEHE Vice President Frankie Morris said.
Morris noted that Johnson was killed the same year he went to Vietnam and that it took over 25 years before anything was done.
"To me, it was unbelievable that this young man could go into service and fight for his country and nobody honored him or said anything about it," she said. "I'm sure we talked around the barber shop or the pool room. But to get out to see that something is named after him, they didn't do, so that's why my goal was to have something named after him and do something to let his family know that Douglas County did not forget him."
Saturday's festival is free and open to the public. Festivities will include live music, storytelling, food and a kids corner. The entertainment will include Villa Rica’s Thomas Dorsey Birthplace Choir from Mt. Prospect Baptist Church as well as local artists. A health fair, bingo and voter registration will be held in the conference center.
Douglasville City Councilman Samuel Davis is chair of BEHE’s Juneteenth committee this year.
The first event several years ago drew as many as 800 people and about 40 vendors. Like the original celebration in 1865, it spread by word of mouth with little publicity.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the U.S. and dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and slaves were free.
Upon hearing the news, former slaves rejoiced in the street with jubilant celebrations. However, this was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, according to www.juneteenth.com. Many have speculated as to why the decree in Texas wasn’t received or honored sooner, but the celebration later became a day filled with festivals and food.
"That year we did have Juneteenth, but we had it up at the Old Courthouse Museum because that's where we were working out of at that time," Morris said. "We used the front of the Old Courthouse Museum and the inside to have our celebration."
She stressed the importance of commemorating the event each year.
"Each year, somebody says, 'Well, what is Juneteenth all about? What did it start from?'" Morris said. "They still don't know and we try to educate them."
For more information about the event, call 770-947-5920.