Lawrence launched into its Juneteenth celebration Wednesday night by taking a look at its past and trying to understand how it affected race relations.
About 100 people gathered in the Kansas Union's Alderson Auditorium for an evening of oral histories.
"We can celebrate our differences and not feel threatened by our differences," said Steve Jansen, a local historian who was one of the speakers.
Juneteenth is a celebration of June 19, 1865, when the last of the slaves in America were notified of their freedom in Texas. That was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
This year's celebration, the largest of its kind that anyone can recall in Lawrence, will continue through Sunday. The idea for it was "hatched in a beauty shop," said Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence state representative who moderated the discussions.
"We take Lawrence for granted, but what a rich history we have," Ballard said.
Juneteenth activities actually began last week at the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club, where children studied Juneteenth and its meanings. Some of the youths are taking part in this week's activities, which included essay readings Wednesday night.
Leading the committee that organized the events are Donna Bell and Janine Colter. They said they were pleased with the start.
"You are always a little nervous the first time, but I think we contacted the right groups to get them involved," Bell said. "We're confident we are going to have a great week."
Several churches and the Lawrence NAACP chapter also are participating in the celebration. Church choirs performed Wednesday between the history presentations.
"This is just a time for fellowship and to reflect and learn," Colter said. "Hopefully this will grow into a great community event each year."
Sabrina Simpson, who has lived several years in New Mexico as well as Lawrence, thought the oral history presentations made a good start for the celebration.
"I enjoy getting to listen to the history," Simpson said.
|More activities are planned for the Juneteenth celebration:¢ Three-on-three basketball tournament, noon today at New York School, 936 N.Y. It will continue at 9 a.m. Friday at the East Lawrence Center, 1245 E. 15th St.¢ Unity March from Lawrence City Hall to South Park, 9 a.m. Saturday.¢ Family Festival featuring live music, games and Underground Railroad tours, 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Burcham Park.¢ Prayer breakfast with featured speaker the Rev. Reginald Backus, 7 a.m. Sunday at Victory Bible Church, 1942 Mass.|