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Junteenth festival celebrates community, unity

Members of the Oxford community gathered Saturday to celebrate Juneteenth, honoring the achievements of the Black community and the importance of Black history in Oxford and Lafayette County. The celebration, which took place in the Oxford Intermediate School parking lot on Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, was the culmination of a week-long Juneteenth Festival.

Although Juneteenth has been celebrated throughout the United States since 1866, the holiday, which originated in Texas and commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people, was declared a federal holiday by President Biden last week.

“Juneteenth is a celebration of Black excellence, supporting local businesses, Black-owned businesses, and just all-around networking,” Michael Carter, an artist and vendor at the event, said.

Oxford’s first Juneteenth celebration began 12 years ago as a neighborhood cookout and block party hosted by residents along Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and surrounding areas; since then, the celebration has expanded to include a week-long festival, including Linen on the Lawn, an event hosted in collaboration with the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council on June 12, live music on the City Hall Plaza, and Double Decker bus tours highlighting Black history in Lafayette County.

“Really, the whole principle of our Juneteenth festival is to celebrate our community and encourage neighbors and citizens that don’t normally interact with each other to find that it’s a place you can meet someone you never knew lived in Oxford,” said Kesha Howell-Atkinson, alderperson and chair of the Juneteenth Board, which plans and executes the festival said. “It is a major community event to me, and I think I can say the same for the Juneteenth board.”

The festival featured several Black artists such as Carter, as well as live music and a number of other vendors and community organizations, including the Oxford Community Market, Lafayette County Sheriff’s department, and the Lafayette County Democrats.

Vendor Allen “JJ” Jones, whose work has been featured in businesses such as Lost Dog Coffee and Fergndan’s Pizza through his business Woodshed by JJ, said he was excited to participate in the festival to promote unity in the community.

“It’s to show everybody, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Jones said. “It’s kind of like putting salt and pepper on a plate and trying to separate it, it doesn’t work like that, we all need to get along. We’re all the same blood. I just think it’s important we acknowledge the past and then just be done with it, so we can move forward.”

Looking forward, vendors and visitors alike say they hope to see the festival continue to grow in the future.

“It’s good to see everyone out networking, white and Black,” Carter said. “The mayor came out, which was a good thing. Now that we are having this as an official holiday, I hope to continue this.”