Themes of education and unity were woven throughout a Juneteenth celebration Saturday at the West Las Vegas Library.
They served to underscore and commemorate the historical significance behind Juneteenth. It took two and a half years for the news to reach Texas slaves that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and slavery had ended in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, to enforce the order.
“They were already free but did not know it,” state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said during the event. “For two years, they didn’t know it.”
Juneteenth takes place on or near June 19 each year to commemorate the day the last slaves in the U.S. were emancipated and to celebrate the abolition of slavery.
On Saturday, the Las Vegas chapter of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation celebrated with music, dance and spoken word in the West Las Vegas Library theater.
“When I think about it, I think that we are more than blessed to be here, living at this point in history. And I feel a debt of gratitude to those who came before us, who wore the shackles, bore the whip and worked the fields,” Spearman said.
The Southern Nevada Buffalo Soldiers chapter had a booth at the event with artifacts and information. Vice President Jon Jon Everet said the chapter speaks to elementary and middle school students and seniors to teach them about the Buffalo Soldiers, black soldiers who served in the American West after the Civil War.
“Their story was never told back then,” Everet said. “So we have to tell it today.”
Other community and religious leaders took part in the event, including Assemblyman William McCurdy II, D-Las Vegas, and former Assemblyman Harvey Munford.
Munford related the history of segregation in Las Vegas, when black residents couldn’t go farther south into the city than Bonanza Road and black musicians weren’t allowed to stay in the hotels where they performed.
They both spoke about the progress Las Vegas’ African-American community has made toward equality and the work that still needs to be done.
It was the ninth year the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation hosted an event in Las Vegas, Vice Chairwoman and Communications Director Dee Evans said.
“You get recognition for the Holocaust, for May Day, but we’re rather like the stepchild of holidays,” Evans said. “At this moment, we need to educate the people — to bring this forward to a national celebration.”
The Juneteenth Jazz, Arts and Spoken Word Celebration program ended with a Bridge of Peace Reconciliation Ceremony led by members of the Women’s Federation for World Peace.
Community leaders at the event approached each other, bowed, exchanged flowers and then embraced and walked off the stage together to represent closing the divide among different communities.
“Once we leave here, what will we do to inspire and what will we do to encourage the next generation?” McCurdy asked the audience. “Never forget where we come from, and always remember to lead with compassion.”
More Juneteenth events
Juneteenth Independence Day flag presentation, International Day of Drumming and Healing: The event will begin at 10 a.m. at the Martin Luther King Statue, at the intersection of CareyAvenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. For more information, visit njof.org
19th annual Juneteenth Festival: The free cultural celebration features entertainment, historicalstorytelling from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Kianga Isoke Palacio Park, next to DoolittleCommunity Center, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd. R&B groups In-A-Fect and Next Movement areamong those slated to perform. For more information, visit june19lv.com.