‘Wonderful Tradition’

Juneteenth Celebration In Bridgewater Recalls End Of Slavery

Posted: June 20, 2014

Mwizenge Tembo, a sociology professor at Bridgewater College, plays a drum during the Juneteenth celebration at Wildwood Park in Bridgewater on Thursday. Each year on June 19, festivals, parades and picnics are held nationwide to mark the June 19, 1865, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas. Texas was the last state to receive the order to end slavery. (Photos by Jason Lenhart)
Plenty of strawberry soda was available during Thursday's Juneteenth celebration at Bridgewater's Wildwood Park. No Juneteenth celebration is complete without strawberry soda.
Juneteenth participants grab help themselves to food during the picnic at Wildwood Park in Bridgewater on Thursday.

BRIDGEWATER — Although it harkens back to a darker era in the U.S., the mood at the Juneteenth celebration in Bridgewater on Thursday night was one of pure joy.

“Slavery was a sad time in our history, but the Juneteenth celebration recalls the fact that the last of the slaves were finally freed. It’s more about coming together as a community than dwelling on sadder days,” said Joanne Gabbin.

Gabbin, a professor of African-American literature at James Madison University, said the joy shared during events like Juneteenth brings the community together and makes it stronger.

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led 2,000 Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas, to read General Order No. 3, the Emancipation Proclamation.

It freed the Texas slaves — the last in the country to receive the order.

The former slaves immediately took to the streets of Galveston to celebrate, and a tradition was born.

Each year on June 19, celebrations across the country are held to mark the anniversary of the day.

About 30 people gathered at Bridgewater’s Wildwood Park and shared traditional barbecue and sweets. Strawberry soda, a customary treat associated with the holiday, was also on hand.

“Traditionally, people came to Juneteenth celebrations and brought special dishes to celebrate and to share with each other —  foods that weren’t always available and that were special,” said Esther Nizer, president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County NAACP chapter. “That’s why we continue with the tradition of the meats and desserts and the soda.”

Khadijah Islam has been attending Juneteenth celebrations in the Harrisonburg area for nearly a decade.

“It grows more every year,” she said. “The more people hear about it, the bigger it gets. It’s a wonderful tradition.”

Contact Megan Applegate at 574-6286 or mapplegate@dnronline.com

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