Editor's Note: This version corrects the date of the announcement of Robert E. Lee's surrender and the date of the last Juneteenth celebration in the city.
Even with temperatures reaching the mid-90s on Saturday, the city of Pine Bluff still anticipates a large crowd of spectators will come out to the Regional Park Amphitheater for a day of camaraderie, food and history during the first Juneteenth celebration in three years.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and those who attend are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.
After entering the state with 2,000 federal troops on behalf of the federal government the day before, it was on June 19, 1865, that General Gordon Granger announced the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to the people of Texas. Thus, emancipating all enslaved people and birthing the cause for Saturday's celebration — Juneteenth.
After Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington made the decision to revive the celebration that had once been held in the city, she appointed Lanette Frazier, her assistant, to coordinate the day's events under the theme “Break Every Chain.”
“We have to do our part to recognize it, too,” Frazier said in regards to the revival of Saturday's Juneteenth celebration.
Frazier was accompanied by a team of four that was comprised of Washington, Mary LaBelle, Officer Jasmine Womack, and Shirley Warrior in the planning of Saturday's festivities.
“It's like a big home barbecue,” Frazier said. “The whole community can come together and enjoy a day of fellowship and food.”
According to Frazier, participants have the opportunity to indulge in an hour-long opening ceremony featuring various forms of entertainment including Juneteenth-related poetry recited by Pine Bluff police officers, musical performances by local youth, a dramatization related to the history of slavery by the Dollarway Drama Club, and a praise dance choreographed to the tune of “Break Every Chain” by gospel singer Tasha Cobbs.
“People will learn the story of the quilt,” Frazier said. “I didn't know about the story of the quilt, so I'm excited to learn about it.”
The Pine Bluff Police Department will supervise an area of the amphitheater designated specifically for children. The kids zone will be equipped with bounce houses among other activities.
People attending the city's Juneteenth celebration have the chance to patronize over 30 vendors who will set up shop Saturday during the day's festivities to showcase what they have to offer the community. The list includes, but is not limited to, vendors such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Jefferson Comprehensive Care System Inc., Arkansas River Education Service Cooperative, Paparazzi Jewelry, Liberty Utilities, TOPPS Inc., members of the Pine Bluff School District, district court, and Jefferson-Lincoln Circuit Court, 6th Division dedicated to juvenile court cases.
The 89th Miss University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Angelica Perkins, will also join in the fun and can be found at her own table that will be set up at the amphitheater during the day.
While attendees mingle to sounds produced by the event's DJ, hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, drinks, and water, and more will be available during the event's cookout. According to Frazier, visitors may be surprised to see an array of strawberry-flavored beverages, as red drinks often symbolize special occasions, a tradition brought to the United States by enslaved West Africans.
All food will be prepared by Mr. Elvin, also known as Mr. Nick, who volunteered to prepare the cookout's food options for free.
Frazier thanked Super 1 Foods on Camden Road, Walmart, Flowers Baking Company and Tyson Foods for donating all food items, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield, which donated water bottles to be passed out during the celebration.
“I just want to thank the community,” said Frazier, who was pleased that people were willing to reach out and lend a helping hand in the project. “I'm only one person, and I wouldn't be able to do it alone.”
Wil Jenkins, one of the owners of Uptown Salon and Boutique, as well as a few of Pine Bluff's local businesses, made donations to help make Saturday a reality, Frazier said.
Juneteenth is a part of the city's effort to rebuild the city and bring the community together, Frazier said, encouraging everyone to come celebrate a piece of history while coming together as one.
“I love food, fun, and fellowship,” she said. “Seeing the community together is a beautiful thing. It's like one big family coming together.”