Annual Juneteenth celebration moves to City Park

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After 21 years Manhattan’s annual Juneteenth community celebration outgrew its original location in Douglass Park at Tenth Street and Yuma Street and planted its roots in City Park this past weekend.

Festival official Monique King said moving the event to City Park was a dream come true. She said the increased visibility for the two-day celebration was a blessing and the move provided more space for exhibitors and activities.

The Douglass Center has historical significance in race relations in Manhattan. The center was built in 1942 as a community center for African American troops and is now a community center serving the surrounding neighborhood with tutoring, sports and other programs.

Juneteenth is the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation. News of freedom took more than two years to travel from Washington D.C. to some parts of the country. Juneteenth has been celebrated in cities across the country for 146 years. Manhattan’s celebration is one of the largest in the state and includes representatives from Fort Riley and K-State.

“Look at all these folks out here today,” said festival official Don Slater as he handed out free wristbands to children wanting to climb through the array of inflatables set up in the park. “Douglass Park was just too small.”

In a city proclamation, Mayor Jim Sherow declared June 18 as Juneteenth in Manhattan. He said the event celebrates the diversity and perseverance of all citizens.

This year the community festival included a gospel music festival and an outdoor showing of the movie “The Wiz” with free popcorn on Friday night.

A 3-on-3 basketball tournament, live music and inflatable play structures filled the park both days. A miniature locomotive provided free rides around the park.

The Saturday morning parade from Manhattan Town Center to City Park included local dignitaries and the Kansas City Marching Falcons. The Falcons also performed on Saturday, inviting children in the audience to come up and try out some marching moves of their own.

Local churches, businesses and service groups used the opportunity to reach out to the community, such as the Riley County Democratic Party which registered voters during the event.

King said this year’s events and the move to City Park were a success. She said she is excited about what the future holds for the community festival in its new location.

“Planning for next year begins on Thursday,” said King, who has been active in Juneteenth planning for several years.

Slater said Juneteenth events are planned and coordinated by a volunteer committee of 15 people and completely supported by donations. A local business provided free ice cream and the Manhattan Parks and Recreation Department donated swim passes to be given away.

Slater said he was pleased with the community support for the event.

King said she hopes the festival grows each year.

“My goal is to give scholarships next year,” King said. “And to continue to grow and reach more of the community.”

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