Juneteenth has only been celebrated in Manhattan for the past 29 years, even though it has been something to celebrate for 153 years, according to Juneteenth committee members. Juneteenth, nationally recognized on June 19, marks the abolition of U.S. slavery.
This year, Juneteenth moved to its new venue at Manhattan City Park on Saturday, June 16 for this year’s celebration.
Juneteenth, in years prior, was held at Manhattan’s Douglas Community Center, but according to committee member Richard L. Jones Sr., the event this year outgrew the Douglas location and relocated to Manhattan City Park.
“We don’t have this kind of facility at the Douglas Center,” Jones said.
The events at Juneteenth this year consisted of a Unity Walk after the mayor of Manhattan made a proclamation, followed by a group picture. Later businesses located within the Manhattan community set up different tents where they could market their various businesses.
“It’s about bringing the community together,” Jones said. “It’s a community event.”
The celebration also included a BBQ grilling contest, a Home Depot Kids Building Workshop, train rides and a Juneteenth historical display. Later Willie the Wildcat made an appearance, and two bands, JahVelle Rhone & the A/C Band and the Charles Walker Band, performed to end the night.
Kevin Bryant, regular attendee of Juneteenth, said next year he hopes it continues to grow. Bryant said he hopes Juneteenth will attract more ‘grillers’ to the event, as he says “it’s all about the food.”
With the growth of the event, Bryant says it is also about educating the community in what Juneteenth represents.
“Juneteenth helps in connecting the community to its historical significance,” Bryant said.
A booth at City Park’s community center helped to illustrate the historical significance of Manhattan.
“Manhattan has a rich and extensive history,” Bryant said. In the pre-Civil War era, there were many underground railroad trails running through Kansas. “People don’t realize that actually happened here.”
Bryant and Jones spoke about Kansas State University’s participation in the MLK Jr. Remembrance week, and how the remembrance events help to bring seriousness to Manhattan’s past, while Juneteenth, according to Bryant, is the “proper day of partying,” in celebration and remembrance of the past.
This year’s theme for Juneteenth was “recognize the history or repeat the past,” which was printed on the committee members’ shirts. Jones said it helps to alert people of how much history has shaped today and teaches us how to improve for the future.
Juneteenth’s annual celebration is on a path for growth, but some are opposed to the change in venue, Jones said, since it is now not located in the “black part of town.”
Despite the opposition, Jones said even with the change in venue, he hopes all will recognize that, as a community, they are all in this together.