Juneteenth welcomes community to a celebration of ‘Healing Our Soul’

Carla Clark | For The Republic Lauren Williams and Felicia Garr during the Columbus/Bartholomew County area branch of the NAACP’s Juneteenth Celebration, Columbus, Ind., Saturday, June 22, 2024.

For Naomi Jean-Louis, Fourth Street was an avenue of togetherness Saturday afternoon in downtown Columbus.

Right amid food vendors with steaks on the grill and smoked sausage, what she found filling for a hungry heart was unity at the annual free historical event “Juneteenth Jubilee: Healing Our Soul.”

“One thing that I think is so good about this is that it’s something that doesn’t divide people,” Jean-Louis said. “Often, people are afraid of anything that they don’t know about. Anything that’s different sometimes is going to be scary, but if you can make new relationships with people, it’s not going to be scary anymore.

“And you can see people as simply people instead of as something so different.”

Jean-Louis said having a Haitian husband probably has broadened her view of the world and of various cultures.

She was among a thin early crowd at the gathering that celebrates the official end of slavery in America, when Texas, the last state with slaves, got word on June 19, 1865, that slavery had been abolished.

Texas’ historic happening is known today as Juneteenth, a name originating from the casual merging of the words June and 19th. These days, it is a federal holiday and it has been a growing event locally for more than 20 years. Some of those who strolled through acknowledged that they were unfamiliar with Juneteenth and its significance in American history.

Last year’s Juneteenth drew an estimated 600 people. Organizers estimated that Saturday included maybe 400 to 500 people over the gathering’s six and a half hours, including remarks by Mary Ferdon near the end.

Though much of the gathering organized by the Columbus/Bartholomew County Branch of the NAACP unfolded on two blocks of Fourth Street, a kids zone was set up on the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza one block over. Temperatures rose to the low 90s part of the day, but a light breeze added a cooling touch.

Organizers mentioned two weeks ago that they worried about attendance because the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair just opened Friday in full swing. Tracey Clark, the NAACP vice president and Junetenth organizer, was among those who worried about such.

“I definitely think the fair affected our crowd,” Clark said. “But I think what has really hurt us has been the heat.”

Juneteenth has been just one of eight local, Juneteenth-related events offered in June via Black History Columbus, the entity that has helped plan and coordinate a broad mix of local programs in February for the past two years to mark Black History Month.

Nationally known culinary historian and author Michael Twitty, the featured national guest for Saturday’s event, spoke at two different presentations in the library’s Red Room, attracting more than 50 people.