Lawrence community celebrates Juneteenth

About 150 years ago, Crystal Bradshaw’s ancestor Eliza Bradshaw was freed from slavery. At South Park on Saturday, Bradshaw, a Kansas University student from Jetmore, read an excerpt from the manuscript of her historical fiction novel, “Eliza: A Generational Journey,” based on her family’s past.

Al and Barbara Ballard help read the Emancipation Proclamation Tamara Cash on Saturday at Lawrence's Juneteenth commemoration in South Park.

photo by: Journal-World

Tamara Cash adjusts a period dress on display at Lawrence's 2015 Juneteenth commemoration in South Park.

Bradshaw’s reading was part of the Juneteenth Commemoration Celebration, which also included educational exhibits on national and local African-American history. Bradshaw said linking back to the past is important.

“It’s really just showing how far the country has come and how we’re all related and connected to each other,” she said.

Juneteenth is celebrated in communities nationwide and commemorates June 19, 1865, a day more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was on that day that a general from the Union Army informed the last slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they were free.

Saturday’s celebration started off with a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by several Lawrence community members, including Lawrence NAACP president Ursula Barnes Minor, Mayor Jeremy Farmer, City Commissioner Leslie Soden and State Rep. Barbara Ballard.

“It commemorates a turning point in African-American history and our nation’s history,” said Tamara Cash, Juneteenth event committee member.

The event ran from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and included poetry readings, live music, a bus tour of Lawrence African-American historic sites and food and craft vendors.

Learning about African-American history is a way to bring the community together, Cash said.

“We need to do a better job of celebrating our history and that we’re a resilient culture,” she said.

The Lawrence chapter of the NAACP and Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area sponsored this year’s event, with support also provided by the City of Lawrence and Watkins Museum of History. Juneteenth has been celebrated informally in Lawrence for decades, Cash said, but because this year marks 150 years since the freeing of the last slaves, the committee wanted to include more of an educational aspect.

“We don’t want to just have a good time, we want people to remember the significance,” Cash said.

Juneteenth event committee member Brenda Nunez said that in addition to learning about African-American history, she hopes the event spurs additional involvement.

“To get together and also hope to have a lot more events in the future to draw the community together,” she said.