On June 19, 1865, the last slaves in the United States were freed in Galveston, Texas, and the celebration echoes through the years with the annual Juneteenth celebration, known as the Day of Freedom. While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves two years earlier, it required the advancing U.S. military troops to enforce the federal edict. The final slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas. And the celebration started.
In Colorado Springs, the 2021 commemoration will start June 18 and last three days. Held at America the Beautiful Park, the event is hosted by Onebody ENT/K-Land Community Cares. The free event — also known as Jubilee Day, Freedom Day and Emancipation Day — will host musical performances, a car show, a fashion show, a children’s celebration, food, and more to mark the holiday.
“June 19, 1865, is the historical day for Juneteenth,” explained Nicholas Crutcher, the founder and CEO of Cornerstone Community Development Corp. and the youth director for the Colorado Springs Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “It’s significant because two and a half years prior to that, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves. It wasn’t until that Juneteenth date that the last slave was free.”
In preparation for the Juneteenth Festival, Jennifer Smith, one of the founders of Onebody ENT/K-Land Community Cares has been organizing a series of fundraising events to help cover the costs associated with the community event which will be free to the public.
“We have a lot of moving parts,” she said. “It’s a three-day event, we’ve got some stars coming out, some artists performing, so we’re paying for those artists. It’s a free concert in the park on Saturday. We have a fashion show on Sunday, so we’re trying to pay for everything they need. Those are the big moving parts. We’ll have a car show going on. All these different features are not free. It’s free for the public, but not for us.”
The fundraising efforts have included two musical Jam Session events hosted at the Chinook Center, two skate night events hosted by Skate City, as well as a car wash and a domino tournament in Memorial Park. Smith has received significant support from the community in Southeast.
“Chinook Center is No. 1; they’re like family,” said Smith. “We do everything there; we’re going to have the fashion show practice there. Club Tilt is going to let us have fashion show practice and a model call tomorrow at their spot. We have organizations like the Alphas, Omegas fraternities and then the Deltas and then Sigma Gamma is going to do some volunteering. Cornerstone is helping us out. We’ve got Latrina [Ollie] from Be The Change 719; she’s our volunteer coordinator. Sponsorships are coming in from USAA and T-Mobile. We’ll have someone doing COVID shots there.”
Crutcher and Cornerstone have organized Juneteenth events in Colorado Springs for the past six years. Crutcher says Juneteenth celebrations have been happening in Colorado Springs since at least 1990.
Smith has a lot planned for Juneteenth.
“We have Shai coming out, they’re an old school group,” she said. “Tony Exum Jr. is going to be a part of that, opening for them. He’s family too, as well. It’s going to be a lot of people coming out and helping out. We’ve got Zumba with Fitness by Nitilia. We’ve got churches donating food for the community, New Ebenezer is doing that. Lil Miss Story Hour, she’ll be there reading some stories for the kids and making it fun, dancing. So many things are happening. We’re doing a children’s celebration. Santiago’s Boxing, The Frequency Lady Latina Justina. Different categories for kids to do: leadership, academics, sports and maybe some others, and performances, to get MVP of the city. The kids are participating in that way.”
Crutcher said youth involvement is a historical facet of Juneteenth celebrations.
“The first actual Juneteenth celebration was conducted by the youth in Galveston, Texas,” he said. “They organized a march into town, the kids did. They organized the ceremony, as early as 1867. That’s pretty cool, because the Cornerstone Youth Council, they’re one of the biggest volunteers and have been for the last six years for the Juneteenth celebration. A lot of the ideas we’ve come up with over the last six years were spearheaded by the young people.”
For Crutcher and Smith, Juneteenth is an authentic celebration of independence.
“We celebrate the Fourth of July, but the Fourth of July, as we know, all Americans were not free,” said Crutcher. “Juneteenth is the authentic independence day for all Americans, so I think it’s very vital and pivotal. In addition to that, one reason we’ve pushed so hard for it the last three years especially with murder of De’Von Bailey, is just to get the history out. We have a beautiful, rich history that the city didn’t know about. That, with the historical significance, can uplift the city in the midst of racial divide and turmoil. It’s a celebration one of America’s greatest holidays. It’s an open event, and we do share the spirit of Fannie Mae Duncan, it’s open to everyone.”
Smith says Onebody ENT is still looking for sponsors, donations and volunteers. Community members can connect with the Juneteenth Festival at facebook.com/ColoradoSpringsJuneteenthFestival.
“It’s a celebration of being free,” said Smith. “That’s why we celebrate Juneteenth.”