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Juneteenth Celebration Marks Its Fifth Year

A proud grandmother enjoyed the day with grandchildren Kayla, Kyle, Jaylin, and Shah.

by Valerie Garner

On June 19th, 1865 Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – and it ultimately became a date of remembrance known as Juneteenth.

Free food is one of the biggest draws to the event and everything is free at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Juneteenth celebration.

This year’s Juneteenth celebration held in Washington Park Saturday came off gloriously though some thought mischief was afoot to stop it. It was a close call. It almost didn’t happen –  and not because of the weather – though it did storm shortly after 2:00 p.m.

Ten days before the event the Roanoke Health Department sent forms for every food donor to complete. Jeff Artis and Mac McCadden had not been asked to fill out these forms for the previous four years of the celebration. Nothing had changed for the fifth year. It left Jeff Artis scratching his head wondering what had changed.

All worked out in the end with a three way conference between Roanoke, Richmond and Artis in the nick of time – some confusion, some mischief who knows. The important thing is that this year’s Juneteenth celebration went on bigger and better than ever.

With a few thermometers and wash basins all was perfect, said a health inspector that came by Saturday, according to Artis. The line for food donated by Walmart, Heiner’s, Frito-Lay and Pepsi ran the entire length of Washington Park – a good 30-minute wait for fried chicken, hamburgers, hotdogs and watermelon.

Artis said they refreshed the food every hour, kept the cold food at 40 degrees and the “hot off the grill” food at 160 degrees as instructed by the Health Department. “Everything has turned out so well,” said a beaming Artis.

The music and dancing were constant and only interrupted by a politician here and there. It is an election year – well, it is always an election year in Virginia.

It was a not so “cool” a job for Dwight Breeding Sales Manager with Heiner’s Bakery, and Donnie Wheeler of Walmart. Both volunteers manned the grill, stepping back occasionally when the smoke and heat became too intense. As the hamburgers were grilling a performance by the Jerusalem Baptist Church Praise Team had everyone’s toes a tappin’.

Aaron Robins, Store Manager for the Clearbrook Walmart, and Brian White, of the Bonsack Walmart, dished out the food to pleased customers. Everyone was a volunteer and everything was free.

“Of all the things I’ve been through, this and the [Martin Luther King, Jr.] bridge gives me the most satisfaction,” said Artis.

Major General Gordon Granger read the following upon arriving in Galveston, Texas:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”


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