By Talbert Toole
What began in 2009 as a backyard gathering has now blossomed into a full-blown community celebration.
Traditionally celebrated as the abolishment of slavery, Juneteenth for the Oxford community focuses on bridging the vast communities of the town together, said Kesha Howell-Atkinson, daughter of the late Alderman Ulysses “Coach” Howell.
The celebration initially began with minimal funds and a massive goal for a family gathering. Twenty-eight families each donated $20 and a variety of food to begin the first Oxford Juneteenth.
This year’s celebration takes place Saturday, June 15.
Now, 10 years later, the celebration is experienced by over 2,500 LOU community members and continues to grow.
“This thing has grown,” said Wayne Andrews, director of Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. “It’s probably one of the largest events in town.”
What started in the yards along Martin Luther King Blvd. has now moved to the parking lot of the Oxford Intermediate School with overflow in the Boys and Girls Club parking lot.
The Arts Council is one of the many organizations and businesses around town helping this year’s Juneteenth organize, produce and market this year’s celebration.
Andrews said the event is not only one of the largest events in town, but most people do not know about it. For the few who do know think they are not invited, which is false.
“One part of it, it’s a sense of community,” he said. “The other part is to invite the entire community – come see this part of town that is just not part of the Square. Sometimes, the town forgets to celebrate this part of the town.”
The event is completely free and offers a variety of vendors, activities and family gatherings; however, the organizers do ask for a minimum donation of $20 to help to continue what Andrews calls a “grassroots effort” to bring the entire community together.
“It is just a big backyard hangout,” Howell-Atkinson said.
Prior to this year’s Oxford Juneteenth, with the help of YAC, a promotional event will take place Friday called “Linen on the Lawn.”
Hosted at the Old Armory Pavilion on Friday, June 14, community members can enjoy free music and a picnic. The event will also have tables for reservations and food prepared by the staff at John Currence’s City Grocery.
The event is being held to advocate for Juneteenth, Howell-Atkinson said.
“I consider Friday’s event a publicity stunt to invite people to the main meal (Juneteenth),” Andrews said.
Live music will feature Damien Wash and The Soultones.
For more information or to make a donation to this year’s Oxford Juneteenth, visit the event’s official website.