June 19, 1865 is the day slavery was abolished in the United States – almost two years after the official Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. While countless stories exist about the reason for the delay of this great news making it to slaves across the country, it’s pretty safe to say that we don't need to do a lot of research to figure out the reason for the hold up. Not surprisingly, slave owners didn’t want to let go of the free labor system that had made them rich, caused physical and mental anguish to millions- hundreds of thousands here in the U.S., and broken up countless families over the years. But as black folks are known to do, instead of dwelling on the negative, the freed slaves looked to the future and focused on their next steps. Though most had nowhere to go and no idea of what that “next step” would be, it didn’t stop the celebration! As a result, Juneteenth is a pivotal time in American history – a turning point.
Though not particularly familiar with Juneteenth festivals, the Juneteenth Committee of Columbus and it’s chairperson – Tea Grimes had a vision back in 2017. Having researched Juneteenth extensively over the years, the group knew a family style celebration of the special day had to happen right here in Columbus, GA. While the look of Juneteenth celebrations across the country varies greatly, they all share a common mission - “to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture.”
In spite of Juneteenth’s significance, Tea knew that there were many people in the community who weren’t completely familiar with Juneteenth and what it truly means. Most are familiar with July 4th, America’s Independence Day; however, black folks weren’t “free” until about one hundred years later. When asked about what she sees as the significance of Juneteenth in today’s world, Tea said, “Despite the ugly, ugly history of slavery in this country, our people have presevered. We have a rich history than should be shared and celebrated. Juneteenth celebrations nationwide are a time to pay homage to our ancestors by celebrating how far we’ve come while also shining a light on the work still to be done.” The passion for this work can be heard in Tea's voice as she talks about the event and it's importance. This same passion emanates from the entire committee as they work tirelessly each year to put this amazing celebration together; the evolution of the event from year to year has been amazing. So, for the third year in a row, Tea Grimes and the Juneteenth Committee of Columbus are hosted their Juneteenth Cookout on June 9, 2019 at the Liberty Theatre – located in Columbus, Georgia’s Historic Liberty District. What better place to celebrate Juneteenth than at one of only three historically African-American theatres in the state of Georgia?
While the annual Juneteenth Cookout is a family friendly event that is both fun and educational for all ages – the youth are a primary source of motivation to continue the event each year. When asked why it’s so imperative that today’s African-American youth understand the significance of Juneteenth, Tea said, " I use this opportunity to showcase local talent and business owners that we live and work beside every day. Often we focus so closely on celebrities, that we forget the greatness right here in our own community. I want the young people of this community to see everyday people that look like them running successful businesses and achieving goals in spite of the incredible odds they are often up against. Events like Juneteenth give our youth hope and inspiration for their own futures.” It's absolutely important that our young people recognize they can be successful and earn a great living without being in the entertainment industry or being a pro athlete. Events like the Juneteenth celebration are an excellent reminder.
The number of Juneteenth celebrations that take place nationwide has fluctuated greatly over the years – largely driven by whatever is happening in the world around us. In today’s very, complex and painful racial climate, celebrations like Juneteenth are seeing a resurgence; they are just what communities need to not only serve as a reminder of the past but of how far we still have to go -particularly where matters of race and racism in America are concerned. What better way to acknowledge how far African Americans have come since that June day in 1865 than to come together as a community, lift each other up, spread positive vibes, have fun, and gather the energy needed to push through all that life sends our way until it’s time to come together and do it all over again the next year? With over 30 black owned businesses and food vendors, an amazing sponsor line up, live entertainment, and guest speakers, Juneteenth 2019 was a memorable day for all. We ate, we danced, we laughed, we shopped, and ultimately left feeling better than we did when we arrived!
Thanks again to Tea Grimes and the Juneteenth Committee of Columbus for selecting The Liberty Theatre as their venue again this year.