Juneteenth returns to downtown Columbus next month

People during the Juneteenth celebration held on 4th street in Columbus, Indiana, Saturday, June 18, 2022 Carla Clark | For The Republic

An expanded Juneteenth celebration marking the official end of slavery in all parts of the United States will be from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. June 17 along Fourth Street in downtown Columbus.

This year’s free-admission gathering of music, food, culture, children’s and health activities and more will feature a larger mix of vendors, and a strong educational component, according to leaders with the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Chapter of the NAACP.

The annual local event is being billed as “Juneteenth Jubilee: A Celebration of Education.” The title refers in part to the Bartholomew County Historical Society’s role in highlighting the holiday’s roots and also a visiting Louisville actress presenting a Juneteenth-related dramatization.

Organizers have long stressed that the day and event is for all races.

“We sometimes have been told nationally that Juneteenth is a divisive day in this country,” said Tracey Clark, event organizer and chapter vice president. “But the truth is that Juneteenth always has been a unifier of this nation because that is the anniversary of the day that all of us were truly free.”

Juneteenth, also known to some as Liberation Day, marks the day when Texas freed the last American slaves of June 19, 1865 — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The name comes from a merging of the month and the actual historical date into one word.

Clark emphasized that she is aware that many area residents remain unaware of Juneteenth’s meaning. She added that’s why education still is so important.

“We’re trying to provide a positive environment so that people can have a different way to look at things,” Clark said. “I don’t need to change people’s minds. I don’t need to tell you how to believe.

“I just need to give you the information that you need so that, in the event that you want to change your mind, you’ll be able to change it based on facts instead of someone wrongly telling you that the holiday is only for Black people and only meant to further divide the races.

“It’s the day that every American was made free. Why on earth would we not celebrate that?”

Last year, an estimated 400 to 500 people attended the event downtown.

Chapter president Johnnie Edwards said he was more than pleased with that turnout — a year after an estimated 1,000 people attended a combined Juneteenth/Ethnic Expo celebration that featured more food and more booths just by nature of that merger.

“To have the response that we did last year from the whole community was very rewarding,” Edwards said. ” … And I think we’re excited about this year and the future to see where this will go.”

Clark mentioned that the 2024 event already is being planned for an expanded area in Mill Race Park in downtown Columbus.