June 15, 2011 12:18:00 PM
Columbus is gearing up this week for the 16th annual Juneteenth celebration, which will be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Sim Scott Park.
The event coincides with similar festivities around the country commemorating the abolition of slavery.
Leroy Brooks, who organizes the festival each year with Cindy Lawrence, said it has grown exponentially from the one-day event that just had a few bands performing from the back of flatbed trucks.
"It''s an interesting thing," he said this morning. "When we first started, we had an idea with very little resources. It''s really evolved into a major activity people look forward to."
The first few years, Brooks said, they only had three or four vendors, and only around 1,000 people attended. This year, they expect more than 13,000 people to attend the three-day festival.
He said he thinks getting quality rhythm and blues performers, and keeping the event free, is key to Juneteenth''s success.
"We wanted to recognize the importance of June 19 from a historical standpoint," Brooks said. "It''s an event to bring people together and promote unity and fellowship."
According to the national Juneteenth website, the worldwide event "is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States."
It dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought word to Texans that the Civil War was over and slaves had been freed two years previously when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth is an official state holiday in Texas.
Locally, Juneteenth will kick off at 8 p.m. Thursday night at Columbus Inns and Suite, which co-sponsors the event with the Afro-American Culture Organization, Mix 106.1, Columbus-Lowndes-Recreation Authority, WCBI, Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Budweiser.
Friday night''s performers will include DJ Tall Paul, DJ and the Bluesmakers, The Flames and The Crossroad Band.
Saturday night''s performers will include The Anointed Voices of Faith and the Mississippi Nightingales, The Real Brown Sugar Band, The Lacee Groove and Review and Wendell B.
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.
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