Vendors set up for a previous Juneteenth celebration. This year, Douglasville's Juneteenth Festival events will be held Saturday, June 13 at O’Neal Plaza from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Special to the Sentinel

It’s that time again — the Juneteenth Festival on Douglasville’s O’Neal Plaza.

The festival will be held next weekend, but exactly what does Juneteenth commemorate?

Place the words “June” for the month and “nineteenth” for the date together and you come up with the name “Juneteenth.” The day is actually recognized as a state holiday or observance in 41 states including Georgia, and is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas, origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as Emancipation Day has spread.

Though President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, it didn’t go into effect until January of 1863. For many slaves across the South there was little to no effect on their lives. Some were given their freedom, but there were many more who didn’t know about it across the Confederacy including slaves in Galveston when Union soldiers reached them in June of 1865. The reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston on June 19, 1865 is why Juneteenth is remembered, but at the heart of the remembrance is the ending of slavery.

The Juneteenth Festival in Douglasville is brought to you by BEHE, or the Black Education Historical Exhibit, which is a group of concerned and involved citizens. Juneteenth is just one of their community outreach programs, which also include scholarships for Douglas County students. Another involves the education exhibit on display at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.

Juneteenth is actually a two-day event this year beginning with a banquet Friday night, June 12th, that I’m told has already sold out. The banquet is given in honor of Pfc. Melvin Johnson.

Ticket sales for the banquet help to fund the scholarship opportunities for Douglas County students. 

Johnson was a Douglas County native and graduate of R.L. Cousins High School in 1966. Like so many young Douglas County men, Johnson was in Vietnam by 1969 serving his country. Tragically he lost his life on May 9, 1969 at Binh Duong Province in South Vietnam, becoming the first African American soldier from Douglas County to lose his life during the war.

Johnson’s name can be found on panel W25, Line 29 of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., and he is honored here at home. The Anneewakee Creek bridge on Highway 166 was named for him in 2014 thanks to the efforts of BEHE, Johnson’s family, and Georgia State Sen. Donzella James.

Juneteenth Festival events will be held next Saturday, June 13th on Douglasville’s O’Neal Plaza from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

There will be entertainment including Villa Rica’s Thomas Dorsey Birthplace Choir from Mt. Prospect Baptist Church as well as local artists, crafts, and food and clothing vendors. A health fair, bingo, and voter registration will be held in the Douglasville Conference Center.

The event is free and open to the public.

Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can also find her Facebook page for Douglas County history under the name “Every Now and Then,” and visit her website at lisalandcooper.com for even more stories. 

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