A parade, an official proclamation and a celebration in Kilgore City Park marked the community’s recognition of Juneteenth on Saturday, June 15.
The holiday commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas, which was declared June 19, 1865.
Kilgore’s Juneteenth celebration kicked off with a parade through town, led by local Boy Scouts, Kilgore Legacy Foundation representatives and Kilgore Fire Department vehicles. Closely following was a long line of sports cars, one carrying the Juneteenth Queen, Masons and Kilgore Police Department vehicles.
Locals lined sidewalks on Main Street and downtown to wave to the procession as it made its way to the park where many had gathered to fire up barbecue grills and enjoy treats from vendors.
After Rev. Greg Ford of St. John’s Baptist Church opened the event with a prayer, Mayor Ronnie Spradlin read an official proclamation declaring Saturday “Juneteenth Day” in Kilgore.
The proclamation noted the significance of the holiday which commemorates news of emancipation from slavery being delivered to the approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas. He also remarked on the hard work by the Kilgore Legacy Foundation which ensured Juneteenth celebrations would take place in Kilgore in order to celebrate the legacy of those freed from slavery and to help young people understand the significance of Juneteenth.
Kilgore Legacy Foundation formed several years ago and sponsors the holiday celebration in Kilgore, as well as $750 scholarships for the Juneteenth King and Queen. Saturday’s event marked the sixth Juneteenth celebration in Kilgore.
After Spradlin read the proclamation, keynote speaker De'Lores Arline took the stage to share information about the history behind the holiday.
“I thought I’d speak on the angle of some things you might not know about the Emancipation Proclamation,” Arline told the audience, allowing many of them likely already knew a great deal about the proclamation, which was written in 1862, went into effect in 1863 and changed the federal legal status of 3.5 million slaves.
“The proclamation did not compensate the owners, it did not outlaw slavery and it did not grant citizenship to the enslaved. It made the eradication of slavery an expensive war goal in addition to the goal of reuniting the Union,” Arline said.
She explained President Lincoln was not truly an abolitionist and instead made restoring the Union his primary goal, only pursuing abolition because he felt it would help his main cause.
Arline said troubles did not end for freed slaves once the Emanicpation Proclamation was created and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.
“You can only imagine how our forefathers felt, only having lived under rules of slavery and been told what to do every waking moment and every minute of their lives. Now, they’re told to fend for themselves. They were told they were free, but what does that mean to someone that has nothing and nowhere to go?”
Arline described the journey faced by many African-Americans after the end of slavery, as they endured racism under Jim Crow laws, fought for equality in the civil rights movement and struggled to overcome discrimination.
“I think we can all see a reason to not just celebrate but rather to take time to honor those that took the delayed Juneteenth message and forged ahead to make a better life for all of us,” Arline said.
Following her speech, Kilgore High School graduates and Juneteenth King and Queen Samuel Kosel and Jamaria Thomas read speeches they had written about the significance of Juneteenth and the audience continued to honor the holiday by sharing food, music and fellowship.