Stephen F. Austin State University

Juneteenth in Sabine Parish (August 2012)

Juneteenth in Sabine Parish
By Rolanda Teal

The celebration known as Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the enslaved population were now free. This occurrence happened two and a half years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in January 1863. For many African Americans, especially with roots in Texas, this event holds significance so much so that as the freedmen migrated to other parts of the country they took the celebration of freedom from servitude with them.

In Sabine Parish, this event has been celebrated likely for as long as it has been in Texas. One resident who was interviewed in 2007 at the age of 89 recalled what those Juneteenth celebrations were like when she was a child. According to Ms. Johnson everyone would wake -up early because each person had something to do in preparation for the day.

The men would go to the pond and catch fish for the day's festivities. When they came back there were buckets of fish that were to be cleaned. In the meantime, the women would remain at the house preparing the items that would be served with the fish. For example they made potato salad or cooked greens and made pans of cornbread. Other food items included watermelon and red soda. These two items carried special importance because as explained by another local elder, the red watermelon and soda symbolized the blood shed by those who remained in slavery even though it had been declared illegal for over 2 years.

Even the children had responsibilities for that day such as coordinating games like sack races and musical chairs. There was usually a huge softball game that included both children and adults which was held late in the evening when the sun was not too hot. Juneteenth represented a major community social event. People sometimes traveled from other parishes like De Soto to participate in the festivities. Neighboring church groups would also gather by the wagon load in the backwoods of Converse, Louisiana. In those days, according to Ms. Johnson folks mostly celebrated on church land, however sometimes the event was held at the residence of a prominent citizen. As a child, Ms. Johnson stated Juneteenth was one of her favorite annual events next to Christmas.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. Today, the City of Many, Louisiana along with the Black Heritage Festival hosts a Juneteenth Parade and day of celebration that is generally held the second weekend in June. Festivities on that day include a parade, praise and worship singing, storytelling, games, pig roasting, and a car show.