Federal holiday designation brings joy to Juneteenth event in Topeka

Saturday was a great day, said Norma Avery.

Avery, a black woman who is chair of the group that hosts the annual Family & Friends Juneteenth celebration in Topeka’s Hillcrest Park, expressed her joy that day that Juneteenth Thursday had become a national holiday.

“We’re just thrilled,” she told hundreds of people in attendance early Saturday afternoon as ceremonies were held to kick off this year’s 10am Family & Friends event.

This year’s June 10 celebration is historic, Topeka Deputy Mayor Mike Padilla, who is Hispanic, told the audience.

“It’s not just an African American vacation,” he said. “It’s a holiday for the whole country.”

Eugene Williams addressed the audience at Saturday's Juneteenth celebration at Hillcrest Park.

Still, Eugene Williams, a black man who is executive director of KTWU-TV and was the emcee on Saturday, told those in attendance that it “doesn’t cost America a lot” to make Juneteenth a public holiday. federal.

“There are a lot of other things that we need as black people in this world,” said Williams. “Make sure you are vigilant, make sure you stay focused on your task, and make sure you work for these kinds of things.”

Juneteenth commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas learned they had been freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

After:With Juneteenth Now A Federal Holiday, Shawnee County To Discuss Adding Public Holidays Locally

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday after it was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate and by a 415-14 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“My kids woke up this morning and said to themselves, ‘Mom, happy June!'” Said Ariane Davis, candidate for Topeka city council. “My kids have never done this before, so the awareness across the country really brought Juneteenth to light.”

Davis spoke as one of three black candidates for council seats to participate in a panel discussion held as part of Saturday’s celebration. She is running against Marcus Clark and Brett Daniel Kell for the District 5 seat in South Topeka.

Topeka City Council candidate Regina Platt, left, spoke as council candidates Ariane Davis, center, and Gregory Bland Jr. listened in a discussion held at the Hillcrest Community Center as part of the celebration of Saturday, June 15.

An audience of about 15 watched the discussion, moderated by Sandra Lassiter and held inside the air-conditioned Hillcrest Community Center nearby.

Also in attendance were Gregory Bland Jr., who is running against incumbent Michael Lesser for the West Topeka District 9 seat, and Regina Platt, who is running against William Hendrix, David Johnson, Lana Kombacher and incumbent Sylvia Ortiz for the Headquarters of District 3 of East Topeka.

After:Juneteenth kicks off with a walk around the Kansas Statehouse grounds and speeches

Bland said Topeka is essentially a “separate” community, where the local government benefits people living in the eastern and southern parts of the city less. He suggested that city officials “tear down the moat” and work together in a way that benefits the whole city.

Lassiter noted that the Topeka city government received $ 47 million as part of the US bailout.

She asked who would be “at the table” to represent blacks and browns as decisions are made on how this money will be used.

Platt said the $ 47 million could be used to ensure that “we’re leaving no one behind” by identifying and helping anyone with problems.

Norma Avery spoke at Saturday's Juneteenth celebration at Hillcrest Park.

Vendors and live music were also part of the celebration on Saturday, when the National Weather Service reported Topeka’s temperature reached 95 degrees and the heat index 103 degrees.

Speakers at the start of Saturday’s event included Sherri Camp, a black woman who is a historian and genealogist at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.

Sherri Camp spoke at Saturday's Juneteenth celebration at Hillcrest Park.

Camp, the author of a book called “African Americans in Topeka,” encouraged those present to contact her if they wished to know more about their ancestors.

Many of this town’s original inhabitants were former slaves, Camp said.

“They left the south and came to Kansas because Kansas stood for freedom,” she said.

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