“Together is always better”: Juneteenth Festival brings community together in remembrance

Published 2:30 pm Monday, June 20, 2022

The community of Oxford came together to celebrate June 19th or Juneteenth on Saturday afternoon at Oxford Intermediate School.

Residents braved the intense heat for a day of food, music by the Soul Tones, and fellowship in remembrance of the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.

Juneteenth is a federal holiday as of June 18, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed a bill that was passed by Congress to set aside Juneteenth, or June 19th, as a federal holiday. Many states recognize the holiday and, although it is not recognized by the state of Mississippi, many municipalities observe the holiday on Monday, June 20, and federal buildings and banks are closed.

“When [Biden] signed it last year, we really felt like it was absolutely what we were shooting for and what we wanted to happen,” said Cece Webb, Oxford Juneteenth organizer. “We wanted to get out into the community because a lot of people didn’t understand or didn’t know what Juneteenth was. Not just Oxford Juneteenth but the Juneteenth period. But when he signed it, it opened up a lot of doors and it opened up a lot of gates.”

Webb worked with community leaders like Aldermen Kesha Howell-Atkinson, Frances Howell, Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and many others to bring the festival to life and national recognition of Juneteenth helped advertise the holiday.

“If we walked in to ask for donations to assist us with the festival or if we wanted vendors, we first had to explain what Juneteenth really was, how it started and where it originated from,” she said. “But now, people now understand what it means to be a part of Oxford Juneteenth.”

Webb credits Deborah Palmer, former pastor of Burns United Methodist Church, for starting Oxford Juneteenth and the Juneteenth Festival 15 years ago.

“Kesha and I were with Pastor Palmer and she was the one who had the vision of the Oxford Juneteenth Block Party,” she said. “That was our very first one. Then after that, we continued to carry the torch on once she moved away.”

Juneteenth began with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The enslaved African-Americans in Galveston would not find out until Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in the town on June 19, 1865, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. That was more than two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia.

“For many years, it was celebrated in Galveston and many other places but when Pastor Palmer she looked at it as a block party or a freedom party,” said Webb. “Then once we continued to carry it on, we wanted to make it a really big party for the Oxford-Lafayette County community where they could really build a connection.”

According to Webb, this year’s Juneteenth Festival was their biggest one yet. Over 65 vendors set up shop in Oxford Intermediate’s parking lot and sold their products and wares.

“We were around 65 to 67 vendors. We had 69 but a few people had to pull out at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances,” she said.

For the Oxford Juneteenth organizers, the main goal was to attract different people to the event. The holiday center around an important piece of African-American history, but organizers want everyone to take part in the celebration.

“In my personal opinion, I feel like we accomplished a big goal because, for a long time in the Oxford community, it was just basically Black people coming to the block party or coming to the festival,” Webb said. “But now you look out and see the entirety of the Oxford community coming together and making it better.”

The Oxford Juneteenth Festival had a lot of sponsors and a lot of people in the community who were eager to be a part of the event, she said. From Linen on the Lawn to the Miss Oxford Juneteenth Pageant to the Festival, the past couple of weeks were a special time for everyone to come together and create something special.

“That really does something for me because I don’t want people to always think it’s just a party for Black people,” said Webb. “It’s a party of unity, it’s a party of freedom, it’s a party of togetherness. Together is always better.”

For more information on the Juneteenth Festival, visit Oxford Juneteenth’s website at www.oxfordjuneteenth.org or Facebook @OxfordMSJuneteenth.