On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and that slaves were free.
His news came two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but for many in Texas, this was the first they heard of it, and Juneteenth, became a celebration commemorating the end of slavery each year thereafter.
This weekend, Manhattan observed the city’s 23rd annual Juneteenth festival, kicked off by Friday night’s Gospel Fest, where eight groups of performers took to the stage in City Park.
The performances were prefaced by a prayer from Pastor Darryl Martin with the Manhattan Christian Fellowship Church. “We are here to lift up the name of our savior,” Martin said. “It is unto you that we lift our voices.”
Jaleesa Riddley, a soldier from Fort Riley, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” to open the night, and after the sun went down, she once again took to the stage to close the show.
In between, there were performances by the Manhattan Christian Fellowship Church, who, sang “Not Forgotten/He Knows My Name,” among other songs; El Shaddai Ministries Community Church praise and worship team; the Junction City Church of the Nazarene; and Salvation Army, performing with brass instruments.
Cara Bilyew, a member of the Manhattan Christian Fellowship Church, said she has sung on the praise team for about three years. Her favorite song to perform is “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” which she said was one of the first songs she heard when she started attending the church. “It touched my heart,” she said.
Other highlights included songs by Pastor Rachel Williams-Glenn of Bethel A.M.E. Church, who took to the stage and kicked off her shoes before announcing that she had a reputation as a “no-shoes” pastor; a performance by the Fellowship Temple Mime Team, a group of four performers who mimed to gospel music; and a spiritual dance by Lanique Jackson.
Jackson said she has been dancing since she was little. “I practice,” she said. “But I go with however (God) moves me.”
Monique King, the event coordinator for the Juneteenth, told the crowd that the theme for this year’s festival was education. “This is about unity and community,” she said.
Yasche Glass, vendor coordinator, said that in following the theme, two students, Breonna Summers and Dakie Washington, who had shown service to their community and stellar academic records were going to receive the Don Slater Academic Scholarship, a $500 scholarship to use toward college. The recipients wrote an essay on what Juneteenth means to them.
“Slaves were not afforded the availability of an education,” Glass said.
Pat Murray, committee secretary, said the Juneteenth festival has grown over the years. Murray has been on the committee, composed of about a dozen people, since the beginning and has seen the festival become a community-wide celebration over the years.
On Saturday, the celebrations continued with a parade down Poyntz Avenue. Mayor Loren Pepperd read the Emancipation Proclamation, and Myra Gordon, associate professor of psychology and associate provost for diversity at Kansas State University, spoke.
Entertainment was provided by the ABC Boys Club Drill Team, the Kansas City Kansas Gateway High Steppers, Sara Jones, a dancer, and step show performances by Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theata & Phi Beta Sigma, among other performers.
On Sunday, Geraldine Baker Walton will give a lecture, “140 Years of Soul: African Americans in Manhattan, Kansas, 1865-2005.” The event is hosted by the Manhattan Juneteenth Committee and the Riley County Genealogical Society and will take place at the Manhattan Public Library at 2 p.m.
And once the festival is finished, it will all begin again. Glass, who has been serving for three years, said planning for next year will start Thursday. “We don’t get a break,” she said.