In 1872, a mere seven years after June 19, 1865, the day that has come to be known as Juneteenth, when slavery was officially abolished in the state of Texas, Houston’s Emancipation Park was founded. A group of formerly enslaved Blacks, led by Rev. Jack Yates, raised funds and pooled resources to purchase the land upon which they desired to commemorate the day of their liberation into perpetuity.
What started as a local observance has now become a national and even international phenomenon, which many Juneteenth celebrants view as a good thing. However, they see it as just as critical to remember its origin story, of which Third Ward’s Emancipation Park, located at 3018 Emancipation Ave., is a main character.
From Saturday, June 18 through Sunday, June 19, Emancipation Park Conservancy (EPC), the Kinder Foundation and the City of Houston will host Emancipation Park’s Sesquicentennial Juneteenth Celebration under the banner, “Celebrating our Legacy: Bridging Generations.”
Highlights include a gospel and R&B musical lineup featuring the Isley Brothers, Kool & the Gang, Sheila E., Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, Earnest Pugh, Pastor Mike Jr., Zacardi Cortez and Monica Lisa Stevenson.
“This celebration will be a joyous event on the second anniversary of Juneteenth being recognized as a national holiday,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “And on this very special occasion, we will reflect as a community on how far we’ve come on this freedom journey, and understanding the pledge, the challenges, the hurdles, and the opportunities that have shaped the African American community in this city. The magnitude around this year’s occasion goes beyond measure.”
In announcing the EPC’s sesquicentennial plans, Turner said Juneteenth is the oldest known holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in Texas.
“And this park is committed to serving the people of Houston and the historic legacy of those who journeyed from Galveston back on Juneteenth 1865, when General [Gordon] Granger gave the news on the Miranda,” said Turner.
“For 150 years this park has been here to help us all to remember what Juneteenth 1872 is all about. It’s about freedom, freedom for us all,” said Jacqueline Bostic, great-granddaughter of Jack Yates.
“I know we look every day at television and we all talk about how we love freedom, as we see our people are fighting in other countries for freedom. Well, Juneteenth is about freedom. It’s about the day and the time that we all learned that those of us who were people that lived in these United States of America, whether it was in Texas, New York, Chicago, or wherever it might have been, that finally, we were all free.”
The event will commemorate the park’s 150th anniversary and the abolition of slavery in the Lone Star State. As part of the celebration, EPC will host various events designed to:
1) Educate current and future generations about the park, the surrounding community and key social topics via discussions and tours.
2) Empower the community with free educational resources.
3) Provide opportunities for economic advancement via a vendor market and resource fair.
4) Uplift and celebrate the park and the day with a host of national recording artists.
“Emancipation Park is such a special place. We all know that. But it’s really much more than a place to go for recreation,” said Rich Kinder of the Kinder Foundation. “You look around, and this is a great avenue for recreation. But far beyond that, as we’re stressing today, and we’ll be stressing in June, it’s really a part of history and a part of culture, for Houston, for the state of Texas, and indeed for the entire United States.”
Just as excited about the park’s sesquicentennial is Ramon Manning, EPC board chair. However, he wants to make sure that celebration participants and others know that Emancipation Park is so much more.
“For us, it’s really being intentional and deliberate about why this place was founded and its use and going forward, and how we continue to expand on that,” said Manning as he listed just a few examples of activities and events held at Emancipation Park, including free dental health clinics, youth activities and lecture series on everything from health disparities to voting rights.
Manning added that it is critical that more individuals and institutions actively engage in “telling our story and having people understand the history and the importance of this space.”
The Emancipation Park celebration is free and open to the public, though tickets are required. Ticket holders will have access to a vendor fair featuring food, local small businesses and community resources.
Potential attendees can register online at epconservancy.org for a maximum of three tickets until all are distributed.
- National recording artists
- Interactive kids’ zone
- Community partners with outdoor activities
- Food, beverage and product vendors
- Game zone
- Guided park tours
- Cooling zone
- Fireworks display
- Kinder Foundation
- Baker Hughes
- BIPOC Arts Network & Fund
- Coca Cola
- Houston Astros
- Houston Texans
For more information, visit https://epconservancy.org/ or call 713-528-1872
Region-wide, coordinated Juneteenth celebrations
From Freedmen’s Town to Fifth Ward, Acres Homes, Independence Heights and historic neighborhoods throughout the city, Houstonians will have an array of events to attend during the upcoming Juneteenth holiday.
During a recent press conference, Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the Houston City-Wide Juneteenth Planning Committee to announce multiple multicultural celebrations recognizing Juneteenth and its importance to history, freedom and the Houston- Galveston region.
The news conference marked the first time in the city’s history that a unified effort is promoting Juneteenth events hosted by organizations throughout Houston.
“I am pleased to announce that our community has joined forces to celebrate freedom in commemoration of Juneteenth. These events are open to everyone, and we want each celebration to impact our community and leave a lasting impression on generations of people. And if you are like me, you plan to hit them all,” said Turner.
Participants also announced the launch of a new website designed to track celebrations hosted by communities, organizations and institutions around the city. Each is designed to showcase Houston’s rich history, diversity and inclusion. For additional information, visit https://www.juneteenthhouston.org/.
The mayor was joined by: District H City Councilmember Karla Cisneros; Zion Escobar, director of Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy; Tanya Debose, Independence Heights Redevelopment Council; Harrison Guy, 5th Ward Cultural Arts District; Ramon Manning, Emancipation Park Conservancy; Miguell Ceaser, lead archivist of the African American Library at the Gregory School; Necole Irvin, Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs; the Houston Heritage Society and Janice Weaver, Mayor’s Office of Community Relations.
“While we know this isn’t every Juneteenth event taking place, we hope that this is the beginning of deeper collaboration and connection within the Houston Galveston region. This story is a regional story, and this is the birthplace, and this is the home,” said Escobar.