BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
About 6,000 people joined the Juneteenth festival at the Cypress Street Park on George Engram Boulevard on June 21 while hundreds more met the night before for an annual banquet that recognizes local hometown heroes.
Both events, sponsored by a local Juneteenth Committee, were the largest in the events’ history, according to Linda McGee, who has headed both events previously through the City of Daytona Beach and continued doing so following her retirement from the city this year.
“This was the most successful banquet in 14 years, the largest crowd of participants and the largest amount of vendors,” remarked McGee. “We have to celebrate the memories. Someone paved the way for you, suffered for it. When the slaves were free, at least for a moment they had a chance to celebrate.”
Juneteenth is the day Texas slaves learned of their release from enslavement. The announcement came on June 19, 1865, a full two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had become official. Celebrations take place all over the country in honor of that day.
Attempts to explain this the delay in the receipt of this news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years.
According to Juneteenth.org, “Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Back in Daytona Beach, a steady stream of people filled the park as vendors showed their wares, children flipped on trampolines and elected officials and candidates for the 2014 elections handed out information to attendees. A city commissioner as well as several district judges passed out water to cool patrons off in the 90-degree weather.
Entertainment at the festival was steady and included gospel choir performances, a martial arts group and the Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels, which featured more than 500 historical artifacts and displays on African-American history.
“The entertainment was out of this world, it was nonstop,” McGee remarked. “Babies, grandmas, grandpas. Muslim, Christians, Catholics, Jewish. No one is left out. That is the beauty of Juneteenth. Everyone suffered with the slaves and everyone is celebrating together.”
The banquet held Friday evening honored hometown heroes – those individuals who have served the community with no regard given for recognition or payment for their actions.
Chosen by the Juneteenth Committee were 24 individuals whom McGee says makes the community a better place to live in.
“These are people in the community, serving the community, they don’t charge for what they do.
They do it on their own, do it from their heart. That’s a hero there. They are honorable, they aren’t millionaires, they are hometown good folks who are not in it for money, not for fame but because it needs to be done,’’ she noted. “All we simply say is we know what you are doing and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. We thank them on behalf of our ancestors and our community.”
In addition to the 24 named hometown heroes, members from each branch of service were asked to stand and were thanked for their service as well.
“They are away from their kids, wives, parents,” McGee explained. “Some of these military people will never come home. They give the ultimate sacrifice and we thank them.”