By Ivey Schofield
Growing up, Shelle Blanks celebrated Juneteenth every year with her family. As an adult, she realized that many people in Columbus County didn’t know the importance of June 19, and she wanted to show them what it was all about.
So in 2019 Blanks started the Columbus County Juneteenth Festival, which features pageants, parades and fellowship.
“We’re spreading cultural awareness for individuals to know African American history,” she said, “because you cannot speak about American history without adding Black history.”
Juneteenth, the annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, became a federal holiday in 2021. The designation by President Joe Biden came after nationwide protests following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. Both were killed by police officers.
But many Black people have been celebrating the holiday since 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to tell enslaved people that they were free – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in states that had seceded.
In recent years, Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties have begun hosting official Juneteenth celebrations. Organizers say it’s important to educate the community about Black history and to highlight Black identity.
“We are here, and we are doing positive things,” said Stephanie Littles, who is organizing the Juneteenth Freedom Celebration in Scotland County on Friday, June 16. “We are not taking that we’re free for granted.”
While the Juneteenth Freedom Celebration in downtown Laurinburg has occurred for the last five years, Bladen County is about to have its first commemoration in the Mt. Olive community. Events will begin Thursday and continue through Monday.
The Rev. Fletcher Collins, who is organizing the event, said he hopes the Juneteenth celebration will bring people together. For the last 13 years, he has organized a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration.
“We’ve got so many hurdles to cross,” Collins said. “This could be a platform to bridge a lot of gaps.”
A Juneteenth celebration in the Robeson County town of Red Springs has taken place for the last three years with a focus on educating young Black residents about their ancestors.
“Our history has been diminished over the years,” organizer Eva Patterson-Heath said. “As a people, we must make sure our history is not lost to future generations. It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that 100 years from now we understand that we are a proud people, a gifted people, and we have given much to this country and have more that we can give for this country.”
One weekend isn’t enough to celebrate Juneteenth, Patterson-Heath said. So organizers have spread out the festivities throughout June to include community prayer, a Black cemetery tour, a book discussion and a neighborhood cleanup.
“For me, it is a final recognition of the fact that our ancestors were enslaved people,” she said. “The struggle that they endured was real, and that struggle continues today.”
The Arts Council of Scotland County hosted a Juneteenth event in Laurinburg on June 10 with live music and food trucks.
Local organizers say everyone is welcome at the upcoming events. Here are more details:
All events are at 807 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Elizabethtown.
Thursday, June 15: gumbo and gossip
Friday, June 16: vendors and prayer
Saturday, June 17: games and discussion about NAACP at 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 18: gospel music with praise dancers and singers, gun show by Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy students, and fireworks
Monday, June 19: parade at 11 a.m.
All events (except the parade and lunch) are at 886 Prison Camp Road, Whiteville.
Friday, June 16: pageants at 6 p.m.
Saturday, June 17: parade in downtown Whiteville at 10 a.m. and lunch on the lawn at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
Monday, June 19: music festival from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
More information: https://shorturl.at/aeprB
All events are at 117 Main St., Red Springs.
Friday, June 16: contests for Father’s Day video at 5 p.m. and best natural hair at 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 17: parade at 2 p.m. and entertainment, games, vendors, food trucks and fireworks starting at 4 p.m.
Sunday, June 18: jazz event at 7 p.m.
Monday, June 19: blood drive from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
More information: https://juneteenthrobco.com/
Friday, June 16: spoken word, gospel music, artists and food from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at McDuffie Square in downtown Laurinburg