By Ida Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Meridian's annual celebration commemorating the announcement of the ending of slavery in the United States gets under way Saturday.
Fifth Street – downtown's Historic African-American Business District – will be the setting for the 11th Annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival. The afternoon-to-evening event will feature food, fun, fellowship, a car show – and, of course, music.
"Juneteenth is an important part of America's history that we should not only remember, but also celebrate," said Louis Sutton of the Juneteenth Heritage Festival Committee. "It is a celebration of people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds."
Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth dates back to 1865. It was on June 19 of that year that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and the the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President's Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official Jan. 1, 1863.
Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities and increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings — including Houston's Emancipation Park, Mexia's Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.
The name "Juneteenth" – a combination of the word "June" and the suffix "teenth" as in nineteenth – was coined by 1903. In Texas, Juneteenth has been an official state holiday since 1980. As of June 2012, 42 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a special day of observance.
Meridian's observance will began with an opening ceremony including a proclamation, prayer and the history of Juneteenth.
A children's area will be set up from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. and will feature games such as laser tag, inflatables and other activities. Arts and crafts, as well as food vendors also will be available throughout the Fifth Street area.
A program of gospel music will begin at 5 p.m. and will include performances by the Gospel Deliverers and Sons of Faith.
Evening music entertainment will showcase blues artists, as well as a traditional rhythm and blues group with a mixture of other music genres. The lineup includes:
• O.B. Buchanan – Born in Mound Bayou, Buchanan spent his childhood in Clarksdale. He began singing when he was only 8 in the gospel choir at his Baptist church. By the time he was a teenager, the gospel group Mighty Suns Of God selected him to be their lead singer. In the early 1990s, recorded his first hit single "Back Up Lover." His first disc "It's Over" followed to critical acclaim, and other hits include "I Got Caught," "It's Over," "I Want Both of You" and "That Thang Thang."
• Wilson Meadows – Meadows recording career started with the Zircons, singing Doo-Wop at either end of the 1960's, then continued with his brothers as The Meadows. The group scored an R&B chart hit in 1977 with "I Can't Understand." In the '90s, Meadows went solo and gained popularity for the songs "Personal Matter," 'Man Up," "I'm Missing You," "It Is What It Is," "Let's Cut Out This Game" and "If You Can't Hold Your Love."
• King Russell – Known for the songs "Get Loose" and "Back 2 You."
• Yung Vokalz and Precision Grooves (aka YVPG) – Being a product of the Birmingham area neighborhoods, schools and surroundings have been vital to the culture and vast genre of music that YVPG displays on stage, with all members having a strong church upbringing that played an important role in the development of such a vibrant and wide range of sound. YVPG ranges from hip to traditional rhythm & blues with a heavy amount of rock & roll, jazz & soul. YVPG has a vast flavor of sounds, and blends their own original sound in well with the classic covers they re-live.
Local vocalists Jennifer Watts and Michelle Miller also are scheduled to perform.
New to the Juneteenth celebration is a car show, which is scheduled from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. The car show will feature two divisions – cars and trucks – and first through third place trophies will be awarded, as well as a Best of Show and Car Club with the Most Entrants.
The cost to enter the competition is $20 and includes the festival ticket. Registration is at 3 p.m. and awards will be presented at 7:30 p.m.
• Sponsors for the 11th Annual Juneteenth Heritage Festival are Coors Light, the city of Meridian and the Juneteenth Heritage Festival Committee.