Juneteenth: A Celebration of Emancipation and Freedom at the Blues and Sweet Potato Pie Festival
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Sweet potato pie

The annual Blues and Sweet Potato Pie Festival is coming to Northwest Branch Library, 1580 N.W. 3 Avenue, Pompano Beach (954-786-2186), on Saturday, June 16. Held each summer in honor of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, it features live music, dance, stories, contests and the Summer Reading Program kick off.

Enjoy music from Joey Gilmore’s Blues Band and singer Lil Mini Woodson; dance performances by the Liturgical dancers, Daughters of Eve Dancers, Valor Dance Group, Silent Worshippers Mime Dance and Proof. Comedian Sis Josephine will also take the stage, with Gary d. Wright of Hot 105 emceeing the event. There will also be storytelling and a rousing step-dance show by the FAU Steppers.

Take a walk back in time and experience an old-time general store, view old-fashioned clothing and handmade quilts and try your luck at relay races, crafts and fun events such as a sweet potato pie bakeoff, a watermelon eating contest and an old-time “eat the apple off the string” competition.

The Blues and Sweet Potato Pie Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free and open to the public. For vendor information or for more details, please call 954-786-2186.

History of Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War was over and all who were enslaved were now free. Why did it take two-and-a-half years for Texas to get the message about slavery? There are a few theories, but whatever the reason, on June 19 there were no more excuses – slavery in the United States was now over.

The news brought immediate change: almost at once, former slaves left Texas, many to Northern cities where they were reunited with family and friends who’d gone on ahead of them. Forging a new life had its challenges, but the memory of the June 19 proclamation provided motivation. June 19 became a day of celebration, rejoicing and prayer. The day was revered in Texas, with many former slaves and their descendants making an annual pilgrimage to Galveston, Texas on this date.

Early Juneteenth celebrations didn’t attract much attention outside the African-American community, and were often held on church grounds or in rural areas where everyone could barbecue, play games, fish and have a good time. As former slaves became landowners, Juneteenth get-togethers moved to land donated and designated for that purpose. One of the earliest of those was in Houston, Texas, when the local Juneteenth organization purchased Emancipation Park in 1898 for $1,000.

Juneteenth celebrations begin to decline in the early 1900s due to economic and cultural forces as well as a lack of education about the meaning of the date. Throughout the 20th century, it all but disappeared from mainstream consciousness, and it wasn’t until January 1, 1980 that Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas. Today, Juneteenth is enjoying a phenomenal growth rate within communities nationwide, and many Juneteenth organizations have formed with the mission of promoting and cultivating knowledge and appreciation of African-American history and culture.

Traditional Juneteenth Food and Festivities

Couple barbecuingJuneteenth activities include everything from baseball to fishing to rodeo activities (it did start in Texas, after all). The holiday also has an important component of education and self-improvement, and prayer service is a major part of the celebration. Barbecuing is a tradition, with the barbecue pit often being established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations. Guests pitch in and bring a special dish so food is abundant, and red foods such as watermelon, strawberry soda and strawberry pie are often symbolic at the Juneteenth celebration. Family reunions are often planned around Juneteenth.

Juneteenth @ AARLCC

Another great way to celebrate Juneteenth is by exploring Broward County Library’s African-American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC), located on historic Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. From one-of-kind historic artifacts, artworks and manuscripts, AARLCC brings history, art and culture to life with its Special Collections.

Currently, AARLCC is hosting an exhibit “Fabulous Forties on the Avenue,” which celebrates and explores Fort Lauderdale’s historic Northwest 5th Avenue of the late 1940s. For information on group tours of AARLCC, held during scheduled library hours, please call 954-357-6282.

Online Resources Bring Juneteenth AliveOffice staff posing with documents

Learn more about this historic holiday and access a wealth of information about Juneteenth at one of Broward County Library’s most popular online resources, African American Experience, a comprehensive source for historical and contemporary African-American biographies and culture. African American Experience includes many online reference books as well as photos, images, manuscripts, letters and audio clips of music and interviews with former slaves.

 Books on Juneteenth @ Broward County Library:

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Come Juneteenth, by Ann Rinaldi More...

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Freedom’s Gift: A Juneteenth Story, by Valerie Wilson Wesley More...
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Juneteenth: A Novel, by Ralph Ellison More...
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Juneteenth: Freedom Day, by Muriel Miller Branch More...
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Juneteenth Jamboree, by Carole Boston Weatherford More...
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New Year’s to Kwanzaa: Original Stories of Celebration, by Kendall Haven More...

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