Community support at festive Juneteenth pleases organizers

At the Blessing International Market booth Saturday afternoon, organizers sold out of food well before the annual Juneteenth celebration ended on Fourth Street in downtown Columbus. And sales of the local merchant’s African clothing were brisk enough, according to owner Rita Kotor.

“We have been busy,” she said.

So, even though attendance dipped to an estimated 400 to 500 from an approximate 1,000 from last summer when the event was a part of the Ethnic Expo series, she and other vendors said the day was a productive one.

“We are extremely happy with the turnout,” said Bishop Johnnie Edwards, chapter president. “We are excited to see that we have a community that is willing to come out and support such a great event and support the African American community.”

The six-hour celebration, organized by the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Chapter of the NAACP, marks the official end of slavery when the United States’ final slaves were released in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The name comes from a merging of the month and the date into one word.

Besides the attendance, the physical layout of the gathering occupied only one block of Fourth Street rather than two blocks last year.

Colorful T-shirts worn by Ivy Tech Community College staff members at their booth even featured the Juneteenth definition and explanation on the back to help educate attendees.

Longtime Columbus resident Dawn Palmer mentioned that she arrived later in the day to stay cooler, and was pleased to see a crowd of mixed ethnicities.

“It’s good to see the diversity, because that can only help at an event like this,” she said.

At God’s Glitter Box jewelry and clothing boutique booth, owner Isheka Randon mentioned that she was especially pleased with an early afternoon crowd that that kept her waiting on customers that so much that “I didn’t even have time to sit down,” as she put it. Her sales included some Juneteenth merchandise.

“One thing I’ve noticed about people in Columbus is that they’re always supportive, and that’s one of the reasons I love it here,” Randon said. “People really seem to all be willing to come together. And I really enjoy that.”