Mount Pleasant first ever downtown Juneteenth celebration set for June 22

By SONYA ROBERTS-WOODS/Publisher

   While it’s not the first Juneteenth Celebration held in Mount Pleasant, it is the first one on the downtown square that features a unique partnership between the City and a newly-formed community organization.

   Just hours away from kickoff, the June 22 event is bringing together members of the Titus County Community Alliance (TCCA) and the City of Mount Pleasant to celebrate the true essence of Juneteenth.

  The local celebration is rooted in a unique, yet still widely unknown, tradition in the African-American community. The Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, essentially ended slavery in America. Signed by President Lincoln, slaves in Texas, however, did not receive the official word until June 19, 1865 when Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island to read the order to them. At the time, it was believed that there were more than 250,000 still enslaved in Texas.     

   Today, 46 states as well as the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth, a word merger of June and nineteenth, as a state holiday. Legislators in Pennsylvania just signed the measure into law earlier this week. The only states that do not currently recognize the day include Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Although unofficially celebrated in Texas since the late 1860s, Juneteenth wasn’t an actual state holiday in the Lone Star State until 1980 when it became the first state to do so.

   “We are excited to partner with TCCA to bring another great fun, family-friendly event to downtown Mount Pleasant,” explained Jacob Hatfield, Director of Community Services, Mount Pleasant Main Street. “Historic Downtown is the heart of Mount Pleasant and there is not a better place to celebrate and honor our African-American heritage. We are expecting to have a great event with great entertainment. We invite everyone to come out and enjoy the day we have planned.”

   The June 22 event has far exceeded the initial expectations of lifelong Mount Pleasant resident and TCCA president Bobby Wilson.

   “I’m just so happy to see this finally happen,” Wilson said. “It’s something I know I have personally wanted for our community for a long time. We’ve had Juneteenth celebrations at the park and in the different neighborhoods in the past, but having an event at this level just makes it something for the entire community to enjoy, From the beginning, the City staff and the Police Chief really encouraged us to do it. It’s just great to see such a diverse group of people working together to do it the right way. This has been a dream come true for me.”

   Beginning at 8 a.m., a 5K Run/Walk will be held at Caldwell Park with late registration starting at 7 a.m. Starting at 10 a.m., a car and bike show kicks off at the Bell Tower parking lot. Judging for this event will take place at 3 p.m. Food, crafts and informational vendors as well as carnival rides will be set up around the grounds of the Titus County Courthouse starting at 10 a.m. Activities on the main stage, provided by Diamond C Trailers, will also begin at 10 a.m. with formal introductions and a city proclamation commemorating the downtown event. Other special presentations planned include former Mount Pleasant City Council members Robert Nance and Danny Muskrat and Mayor Paul Meriwether. The Chapel Hill state girls basketball team members will also be recognized for their historic win this past spring. Selected essay contestants will then read their winning entries about what Juneteenth means to them and why it is important to commemorate the day.

   “I am very pleased to be a part of TCCA and I am looking forward to a great outcome with this event,” Vincent Hurndon, TCCA treasurer, said. “This celebration is not just for us, but it is for our forefathers who lived and suffered before us. There are two things I have been blessed to see in my lifetime that I know my ancestors would also be very proud of: the first black president and now the first black mayor. We truly have a lot to celebrate.”

   The day-long celebration will indeed continue with a beauty pageant starting at 11 a.m. The contest, sponsored by the Lady Mujaji Civic Club, will feature local young ladies vying for crowns in the Tiny Miss, Little Miss and Miss Juneteenth categories.

   Suzie Castillo knows a thing or two about organizing a downtown event. Actively involved in the annual Cinco de Mayo festivities, Castillo decided to join the group and lend her support to the cause.

   “I am so honored to be a part of this event and this organization,” she said. “I didn’t know Juneteenth even existed until I became involved with TCCA. I’ve learned so much about the history of the celebration and about slavery and the culture in general. I just love how everyone is so united and has so much love for each other. As a Hispanic, they have just taken me and made me feel included. Juneteenth is for everyone.”

   Additional TCCA members and officers who are making this event possible include Tracy Craig, Kaye Nelms, Katara Hines, Geanetta Hargraves, Calendra Price, Debbie Corbell and Milton Norman.

  As the day continues, get ready “to go to church” starting at 1 p.m. as several local choirs will lift their voices in gospel praise.  The festivities continue with a comedic performance followed by dance routines by a local group of performers. A real-life Juneteenth re-enactment will begin at 3:20 p.m. Other activities include local rap and band performances and historical reflections by local residents. At 6 p.m., a talent showcase will feature several local residents.  Celebration goers will get a chance to “cut a step” and participate in group line dancing before the headlining entertainment closes out the celebration.

   At 8 p.m., The David Whiteman Band will take the stage as the final act—a performance that will last until midnight. Now considered a Mount Pleasant favorite, the band has performed locally at events such as Hot Night Cool Music and Titus Regional Medical Center’s annual Foundation Gala. The DFW based 14-piece band is known for its energy-filled performances and features classic R&B, hip hop and rock music hits.

 “We are so excited to welcome The David Whiteman Band to the 2019 Juneteenth Celebration in downtown Mt. Pleasant,” said Amy Hinton, Marketing Manager for Mount Pleasant Main Street. “The David Whiteman Band brings live music and gives nothing less than everything they have. You will be entertained and become an instant fan.”

   Juneteenth in downtown Mount Pleasant would not be possible without generous donations from the following local sponsors:

   The platinum sponsor for 2019 is Reeder-Davis Funeral Home, Inc. Gold sponsors include Pilgrim’s-Mount Pleasant, Titus Regional Medical Center and Bobby Wilson, Sr. Silver sponsors are Big Tex Trailers, Symmetry Turf Sports Construction, Elliott Auto Group, Lady Mujaji Civic/Social Club, Brison & Brison Bail Bonds, The McPeters Group and Fleming Oil Services. Bronze sponsors include Lori Chism-Attorney At Law, Abundant Life, Dr. Dan McCauley, DDS, Best Fender Products, Area Wide Movers and Storage, JC White Funeral & Cremation Services, Cypress Bank, East Texas Children’s Dentistry, PA-Dr. Kenny C. Thompson, Cross Law Firm and Hansen’s Collision Specialists/Mount Pleasant.