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Juneteenth parade brings community together

Continuing a decades-old tradition, East Austin residents braved the heat and welcomed visitors for a colorful, musical celebration of Emancipation Day
On June 15, thousands of spectators—including the three shown here—lined the streets of East Austin to join the Juneteenth celebration. Another spectator in the crowd was McCallum sophomore, Brooklyn Carter who said she attends the parade almost every year. “I like being around everyone,” Carter said. “I see a lot of people I know, and the parade is entertaining. To me, it’s just a day for everyone to come together and have fun.” Though the parade can be crowded and a little hectic at times, Carter says she enjoys aspects like the colorful cars and the music heard throughout the parade. “It’s a fun atmosphere to be in,” she said. “It’s really just good vibes all around.” Caption by Lillian Gray.

Thousands of spectators lined the streets on Saturday, June 15 for the Central Texas Juneteenth Parade. Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” is a holiday that commemorates the date that the announcement of the abolition of slavery arrived in Texas. Although President Abraham Lincoln made his Emancipation Proclamation stating “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free,” ending slavery on Jan. 1, 1863, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the entire nation had heard of the news. This was when 2,000 union troops arrived in Galveston and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved people in the state were freed. 

The first celebrations of Juneteenth date back to the first anniversary of that day in Galveston, in 1866, and celebrations around the nation have continued ever since. Although Texans have celebrated this holiday since the late 19th century, it wasn’t a state holiday until 1980. Since then, Juneteenth has gained more national attention, leading to President Joe Biden making Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 19, 2021. 

Austin’s Juneteenth parade has served as an important tradition for many Austinites for more than 40 years. The parade followed a 1.2 mile route, along East Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Chicon Street, Rosewood Avenue and Chestnut Avenue, ending at Rosewood Park. The parade lasted from 10 a.m. until noon and was followed by a festival at Rosewood Park. The festival ended with fireworks at 9 p.m.

We are pleased to share some of our favorite photos and stories from this year’s Juneteenth parade.

Many different community groups participated in this year’s Juneteenth parade. One of those groups, RE-CLAIM! (Revolving Evolution of Culture Loving African Americans In Motion!), strives to support events and programs that directly enhance the cultural enrichment of Black people.

Co-founder of RE-CLAIM!, Imani Aanu, helped organize the Carver Museum and Cultural Center’s participation in this year’s Juneteenth parade. Their decorated float carried co-founders Imani Aanu, Sylvia Stinson, and other members of RE-CLAIM! Harve Franks, James Fenner and Brandon Grant.

“RE-CLAIM! rocked the crowd by providing African Diasporic drumming and movement,” Aanu said. “We encouraged crowd participation in the dancing as we handed out Carver goodie bags and festive streamers.”

As the RE-CLAIM! group moved through the parade, volunteers walked alongside them passing out water to offset temperatures in the 90s.

“My favorite thing about being at the parade is the unity,” Aanu said. “I love being with the entire community including families with multiple generations represented and everyone on one accord to enjoy each other as we commemorate Juneteenth.”

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

Austin ISD made a big showing at Austin’s Juneteenth parade on Saturday. Superintendent Matias Segura (center) and school board members like District 1 Trustee, Candace Hunter (not in this photo), represented the district alongside the Austin All-Star Band, families, and staff.

“Austin ISD has done much to reconcile the harm done to the Black community,” Hunter said. “Our participation in the annual parade gives us another opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to serving Black students and families well.”

The district’s participation in the parade means a lot to Hunter, who has been involved with it since she was a student herself.

“It’s meaningful for me because as a student in AISD my family celebrated this holiday before it was recognized by the district, state or federal government,” she said. “Now, to see every sector of the city and all the different people come and celebrate Freedom Day, it’s amazing. I feel seen and recognized.”

The parade also provided a unique way for Hunter to connect with the people who helped elect her to the school board.

“The parade takes place in my district, so for me a highlight is I get to shake hands and hug on our students, families and community members that I serve every day,” she said.

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

The Juneteenth parade drew in many participants from outside of the Austin area, including Revive the Culture, a marching band based in Dallas. Jerden Woodhouse, (at left in the orange shirt), one of three percussion directors and drum instructor at Wilmer Hutchins High School, was excited to bring the group to town.

“Revive the Culture is a non-profit organization meant to bring kids throughout the city of Dallas together, breathing positivity into the city while also giving them something to do during the summer,” he said. “We teach them the fundamentals of what it means to be a percussionist, as well as teaching various drum cadences.”

Rising senior Byron Williams (center, next to Woodhouse and playing the snare drum) has known Woodhouse since his sophomore year at Wilmer Hutchins High School. Williams says that Woodhouse’s mentorship has greatly shaped his musical career as well as given him an inspiring individual to look up to.

“He has helped me come this far not just on the drum but off of it too,” he said. “He shares overall life lessons and is a really good role model for me and the other kids.”

Woodhouse has valued the chance to work with Williams over the years, whether it be on Revive the Culture or at school.

“Byron reminds me a lot of myself when I was his age,” Woodhouse said. “He has the drive and hunger to grow and be better and do better, not only as a drummer but also as a young man/scholar. So I just help tap into the potential that sometimes he can’t even see himself.”

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

Jaiden Frausto (Dobie), Adrian Perez (Northeast), Desmand Zacarius (Northeast), Sebastian Valdez (Navarro) and Matt Consuelo (Northeast) perform as part of the 137-member Austin All-Star Band. The All-Star Band, one of many marching in the Juneteenth parade, included musicians and dancers from AISD schools including Northeast, Navarro, LBJ, Eastside, Dobie, Webb and Sadler Means and was led by Northeast ECHS band director Rory Guice.

“I used to come watch the Alvin Patterson Battle of the Bands, which was hosted at Nelson Field the evening of the parade each year starting in 2005,” he said. “Once I began teaching in Austin ISD, I became an assistant director of the All-Star Band in 2010. I took over as head director of the All-Star Band in 2017.”

Austin All-Star Band members participate in a camp for two weeks leading up to the Juneteenth Parade. The Austin All-Star Band Camp is free of charge and introduces “Show Style,” typical of HBCU marching bands, to local students.

When he started with the All-Star Band, Guice was the only director who had HBCU experience. A graduate of Prairie View A&M University, he was a proud member of the Marching Storm.

Drumline, the movie, was a great introduction of the HBCU style of bands to the masses,” he shared, “but the full community is huge, spanning all over the U.S. with a rich history of tradition in marching bands, brass bands, and drumlines.”

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

On June 15, thousands of spectators—including the three shown here—lined the streets of East Austin to join the Juneteenth celebration.

Another spectator in the crowd was McCallum sophomore, Brooklyn Carter who said she attends the parade almost every year.

“I like being around everyone,” Carter said. “I see a lot of people I know, and the parade is entertaining. To me, it’s just a day for everyone to come together and have fun.”

Though the parade can be crowded and a little hectic at times, Carter says she enjoys aspects like the colorful cars and the music heard throughout the parade.

“It’s a fun atmosphere to be in,” she said. “It’s really just good vibes all around.”

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

While John Jerrell drives the Austin Watershed Protection truck, his co-workers Darrick Johnson, Amanda Sullivan, Christopher Harris and Tony Lugo pass out candy to the throngs of young people eager to receive the sweet treats. Although there were many returning parade participants, Saturday’s parade was the first one that the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department has participated in.

Vickie Pugh, community engagement specialist, helped organize the department’s participation in this year’s parade.

“Juneteenth has long been an important day to many Austinites,” she said. “The Watershed Protection Department thinks it is important to join in this meaningful celebration, honoring a day of freedom and participating in the parade with employees who share that same passion. Walking and riding in the parade gave us the opportunity to show our support and celebrate this significant day alongside the people of Austin.”

Though it was gratifying to help organize her department’s involvement in the parade, Pugh also enjoyed the chance to be a part of it herself.

“The highlight of the parade for me was watching the smiles on the faces of the children and young adults as we drove by giving out candy and playing R&B music,” she said. “Folks were dancing and joyful even though it was hot, everyone was happy and having a good time.”

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

The Juneteenth parade was led by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers of Austin. The Buffalo Soldiers were African-American soldiers who served in a variety of ways on the Western frontier, following the Civil War. Perry Joseph Davidson, Jr., furthest to the right, has been a part of the program for two years and walked with them in their 30th appearance in Austin’s Juneteenth parade.

“The highlight for me was seeing us all out there together, different colors of people, different cultures,” he said. “It was beautiful to see all the variations of people out there.” 

Buffalo Soldiers of Austin is an all-volunteer program that participates in events around the region to help bring history to life while educating people who may be unfamiliar with the role the Buffalo Soldiers played in American history. Many of the volunteers are U.S. military veterans, like Davidson, Jr. For them, volunteering in this way takes on a special meaning. 

“It’s important to know your history so you know where you’re going,” he said. “ That’s why it’s important that we do what we do, and we present what we present, so we can see how far we’ve come. Dealing with people who are willing to learn the facts about history and knowing what needs to be done today to move forward and how far we’ve come as different colors and races and backgrounds … is something that shows promise for the future.”

Caption by Lillian Gray. Photo by Julia Copas.

Roy Woody, Jr., left, marches alongside the group Austin With Palestine, passing out candy, as group members carry a banner that quotes civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody is free until everybody is free.”

Austin With Palestine advocates for Palestinian liberation while speaking out against Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment. By marching in this year’s Juneteenth parade with the flags of multiple oppressed communities, including the Black community here in America, the group demonstrated the interconnectedness among them all.

“To me it means we can’t only take care of home, but we must take care of those in other countries suffering from exploitation as well. We see suffering here and we see suffering there,” Woody Jr. said. “‘No one is free until we all are free,’ to me means that even if things are going well in my life, I should still make a point to do what I can for others.”

Woody, Jr., who takes his family to the Austin Juneteenth parade and festival every year, enjoyed this year’s parade not only for the activism but also for the strong sense of community. 

“Juneteenth has always meant a lot to me,” he said. “I take pride in knowing that despite what we as Black people have had to endure in this country, Juneteenth is a reminder for us to celebrate our accomplishments and to continue pushing back against oppression in all forms. Being in Austin, we know the percentage of Black folks here is small in number, so being there celebrating with a predominantly Black crowd is something I always enjoy. This always makes it like a reunion to me, and it’s a tradition I hope my kids continue taking part in when they are older.”

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

This horse, along with a few others, walked the entirety of the approximately 1.2 mile Juneteenth parade route. They stopped along the way, as pictured here on 17th and Chicon Street, to allow spectators to sit and have their pictures taken. Children, including these two young boys, gathered around eagerly awaiting their turn.

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson took part in this year’s parade. It wasn’t his first time and likely won’t be his last. Watson shared on June 19 in his newsletter, The Watson Wire, that the event has always been something he enjoys and looks forward to. 

“The Austin Juneteenth Parade…continues to be one of my favorite community events,” he said. “There’s tons of fun energy and friends and neighbors and little kids who love their candy. And there’s history–of resilience, freedom and hope.”

Being the mayor of a large city like Austin is no small task, but Watson feels that experiences like these help make it all worthwhile. 

“Celebrating community events such as Juneteenth is a fun part of the job.” he said. “People enjoy each other, hug each other, yell out greetings to each other and to me, and people laugh. … You feel the love in our community and its people.”

Caption by Lillian Gray. Photo by Julia Copas.

Toward the end of the parade, a caravan of classic cars and lowriders caught the attention of many spectators due to their bright colors, hydraulics, loud music and custom interiors.

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

UT’s mascot, Hook’ Em, marched alongside UT athletes, greeting spectators and passing out candy. Austin American-Statesman reporter Danny Davis, husband of McCallum math teacher, Chastity Colbert-Davis, was in the crowd with his family. Following the parade, Davis acknowledged Hook’ Em in a post he shared on X.

“I always love seeing the Texas athletes in the Juneteenth parade, and my kiddo appreciated the candy and fist bumps he received today,” Davis said, “but S/O to Hook’ Em for walking through East Austin in this heat because I know that mascot needs some water.”

Even in the face of the heat, Hook’ Em’s energy never seemed to fade, bringing smiles to the faces of paradegoers, whether or not they were Longhorn fans.

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

A masked rider on a ATV pulls to the side of the road to hand candy to a young paradegoer. Several other people on ATV’s rode through the parade passing out candy all along the route.

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

One of the last things the crowd out at the Juneteenth parade expected to see was a snake, at least not one riding in a golf cart. Lisa Jefferson, who is in charge of lining up parade participants, has been including her over 18-year-old snake, Fat Gurl, in the festivities for the last several years. The Juneteenth parade is the only day of the year that Jefferson takes Fat Gurl out of her home, and she says she chooses this day for a few reasons.

“Part of the reason is to educate, and part of the reason is to celebrate,” she said. “I think it’s cool for me as an African-American woman who is also attractive to be seen with a reptile. It’s certainly not the norm.”

While Fat Gurl certainly was a main attraction, Jefferson says she enjoys most about the parade is its overall atmosphere.

“You may be surprised, but my favorite part of the parade is always the excitement and joy in people’s eyes.” she said. “It’s amazing how they stand or sit in the sun, waiting for the parade to begin and what that symbolizes for them, especially the elders. I absolutely love it.”

Caption and photo by Lillian Gray.

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    Perry DavidsonJun 25, 2024 at 10:18 pm

    Lillian Gray for President.✌️