A community-wide Juneteenth Celebration was held Tuesday at Penn Park in Waxahachie.

Sponsored by the Waxahachie chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the celebration wasn’t only an act of simple togetherness, it was an opportunity to reminisce over the hard times once lived by African-Americans in Texas until June 19, 1865.

The celebration kicked off with a parade that included many local entries and was followed by a welcome from NAACP president Betty Jefferson and city councilman Chuck Beatty, a life member of the NAACP.

“Today is Juneteenth and I just want to thank God for our mothers and our fathers who have gone on before us,” Jefferson said. “Today is the day to know and to understand where we’ve come from and where we’re going.”

“On behalf of the city of Waxahachie, we welcome everyone to the Juneteenth Celebration,” Beatty said. “It’s good to know where we have come from and to know where we are going. I’m happy to know we’ve come this far and I hope we can continue to grow from generation to generation, carrying the torch of freedom.”

Following Jefferson and Beatty’s welcome, Justice of the Peace Chris Polk graced the festivities with a prayer.

For some, Juneteenth is just a word or a time to gather with friends and families, but guest speaker Bishop Robert Davis of Emmanuel Upper Room Church of God in Christ said the meaning bears much more significance than just the word itself.

“If a person does not know where he has come from, then he is prone to go back,” Davis said as he looked to the audience.

“A person should not be ashamed of where he has come from but instead, be proud,” he said. “We as a people need to appreciate the blood that was shed for us to be where we are today because we are a part of what America stands for, no matter the price paid. We got here from the touch of God because it was him who touched the hearts of many men. We have to believe that God got us into this place and that God will get us out. Don’t be ashamed about where you come from but take pride in your heritage. As we celebrate this day, remember those that paid the price.”

Away from the messages brought by Davis and Polk, people sat back, enjoyed the Texas heat, some great-tasting food and explained what the day meant to them as children played nearby in bounce houses.

“To me, this is a day of celebration for every man and woman because our ancestors paid the way for all of us,” said co-pastor David R. Williams of Greater Deliverance Church. “As a majority and a minority, we have come together and I thank God for the 50 years of living to see this day come and to see everyone come together to celebrate.”

“To me, it means that we are free and I thank God for it,” Mary Jo Williams said. “I really hate what my ancestors had to go through — all the hurt and pain they endured — but I’m so glad that we are free.”

Although many turned out to support the event, some said the attendance should have been better.

“The turnout is pretty good but it could’ve been a whole lot better,” Polk said. “The parade was pretty good and I believe there were more entries this year than last year.”

“This is the first event I’ve attended here in Waxahachie and this is a pretty good day for the celebration but the turnout could’ve been better,” Davis said.

Pastor Mickey Williams of Straight Way Non-Denominational Church said he hopes the children took heed as to what the celebration was all about.

“I hope the younger generation will take the real meaning of where we came from and build a positive foundation,” Williams said. “I want people to know and to realize that we can do anything we want because we now have that right. I also want people to know that we can do much more together rather than apart. It’s good for us to come together like this and to work toward what our ancestors started for us. It’s up to us to pick up and push forward.”

Polk agreed with Williams.

“I hope that the younger children got the message from Davis and to understand what our forefathers had to go through for us to get where we are today,” Polk said. “Everything has changed and these children need to know what we’ve been through.”

Jefferson said the event was a success but it could not have happened without the support of the community and many supporters.

“First and foremost, we would like to thank God because if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here,” Jefferson said. “Secondly, we would like to give kudos to H-E-B for providing the majority of the food for the event because they’re always there when we need them. We would like to thank DART Container for providing the paper products.

“We would like to give special thanks to the NAACP membership because they always come out with full force ready to help, to the NAACP officers because the majority of the time, they’re the ones doing the work. They really help us out a whole lot,” she said. “A special thanks to Emmanuel Upper Room Church and its leadership, parks and recreation director John Smith, the Waxahachie Daily Light for their continued support, and the community for helping make this celebration a success.

“It was such a blessing and we thank everyone for coming out and supporting it,” she said.

According to www.wikepedia.org, Juneteenth or Freedom Day is an annual holiday celebrated in 24 states of the United States. It is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States and the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas.

Although President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation nearly three years earlier, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on Galveston Island and enforced the order in Texas, one of the last holdouts of slavery in the United States.

The other states celebrating Juneteenth include Arkansas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Alaska, California, Wisconsin, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Ohio, Alabama, Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, Virginia, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Wyoming, Missouri and Illinois.

E-mail Chicarra at chicarra.dense@waxahachiedailylight.com