Basking in the summer sun Saturday, June 18, around 300 people gathered to celebrate Juneteenth Day, the oldest known holiday commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.
The all day celebration featured live music, food, sports, guest speakers and numerous other activities to satisfy everyone who attended. People and children of all ages enjoyed the festivities starting in the morning and continued until the evening at Rolland Moore Park, in Fort Collins.
"I think it went extremely well," said Tehron Jones-Embry, co-coordinator of the event. "This is the second time we have done this and we have doubled our attendance from last year, it was really great to get the community at large to come out."
The holiday of Juneteenth, or the "19th of June," acknowledges June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas as the day that slavery officially ended in the United States. On this day Union General Gordon Granger announced freedom to all the slaves in Texas and the Southwest and that slavery was now outlawed.
During the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1963, which stated all existing slaves should be set free. In Texas though the proclamation did not have much impact due to such a low presence of Union soldiers. Two and a half years later with General Granger's arrival, the General Order Number Three was read to the people and freedom was pronounced. Celebration and immense happiness followed as the oldest known black holiday was created.
This year was the 140th anniversary of Juneteenth Day.
"This event was an educational piece," said Bruce Douglas, the other co-coordinator of Juneteenth Day. "We want people to be aware of the event and the significance of it, it is American history, not just African-American history."
Douglas is a graduate student at CSU working on his Ph.D. at Colorado State University and is President of the newly formed Black Graduate Student and Professional Association.
"This was an inclusive event, not just an exclusive event for African-Americans," Douglas said.
Since the city of Fort Collins has a relatively small black population Douglas said it is important for people to come out and to become educated about this particular day.
A live jazz band played on a decorative stage for the crowd, providing one of the more popular acts of the day. Guest speakers told stories to the attentive audience, who enjoyed hearing about black culture and heritage.
"This was my first time attending" said Shayla Reed, a 26-year-old Fort Collins resident. "It is a great opportunity for the city of Fort Collins to become aware of the African-Americans that live in Fort Collins."
Reed said her favorite parts of the day was the food and entertainment, and that the jazz band, the fellowship and story time were fantastic as well.
"It is important for me to support my own history," Reed said. "It is important for other people because it's an opportunity for other people to learn and understand why we celebrate Juneteenth."
As the day moved on, adults, college students and teenagers played volleyball and basketball, children ran about under the sun, some adults held conversations in the shade and the smell of tasty food wavered about in the air. Laughter and the giggles of children could be heard as everyone took pleasure in the holiday festivities. Even a tent was set up to take people's blood pressure and look for diabetes.
"It seemed like everybody was having fun," Jones-Embry said. "People of different colors and different ages were celebrating, I liked just seeing all different kinds of people interacting together."
In the future Douglas would like to see the event continue to grow and for more people in Fort Collins and more organizations at CSU to become involved.
"It is a significant day that not a lot of people know about, so it was good to see people come out and celebrate," Jones-Embry said.