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Organization of an annual Juneteenth festival in Lincolnton has been in the works for the past few years, according to Deanne Williams-McGinnis, the director of the Arts Council of Lincoln County. A virtual festival was held last year and it’s going to happen live this year on Saturday, June 19.

“Juneteenth” is not a federal holiday, but it has great significance in that it marks the day (June 19, 1865) when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.

In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Today, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, while efforts to make it a national holiday have so far stalled in Congress, according to History.com. It became a state holiday in North Carolina in 2007.

“We want this festival to become a yearly event and the Lincolnton City Council has signed off on that,” Williams-McGinnis said. “We formed a committee and we’ve been meeting weekly to plan the event. We have about 30 vendors at this point.”

The festival will happen at First Federal Park in Lincolnton beginning at 10 a.m. This is a free event that will feature entertainment, youth activities and storytelling, artists, artisans, vendors, food and treats.

“Once African Americans were emancipated, they celebrated through their church,” Williams-McGinnis said. “We want to teach that heritage, culture and the art portion of it. There’ll be some church groups who are going to come and sing gospel songs, spoken word and poetry reading.”

There’ll be a train that will run up and down the rail trail that both adults and children can ride on. Local community members will take turns portraying Harriet Tubman and ride along on the train and to tell Tubman’s story and about the Underground Railroad.

At the Lincoln Cultural Center, some of the quilts that were on display during Black History Month in 2020 will be available for viewing. These quilts had an important role to play in black history. Some historians believe that safe houses along the Underground Railroad were indicated by a quilt hanging from a clothesline or windowsill. These quilts would be embedded with a code which the runaway slaves understood to mean certain things like, to travel in disguise or change from the clothing of a slave to a person of higher status, follow an animal trail through the mountains to find food and water or seek shelter. Back when African Americans were enslaved, it was against the law for them to learn to read or write so they had to be able to communicate in alternative ways. Quilts were one of those ways, as was song.

In addition, Deborah Williams, who is on the Juneteenth committee, will have her extensive collection of fascinating information about important individuals and happenings in black history will be on display at the Cultural Center.

The Juneteenth festival will be on Saturday, June 19 at First Federal Park in Lincolnton from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s free to attend. First Federal Park is located at 201 North Popular Street in Lincolnton and the Lincoln Cultural Center is located at 403 East Main Street in Lincolnton.

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