As a girl growing up in Goliad, Texas, Charla Hutchens remembers celebrating Juneteenth with her family and friends by going to a backyard barbecue, eating watermelon for dessert, and riding on her grandfather’s horse.
Hutchens recalls that Juneteenth — which commemorates the day enslaved people in Galveston finally received word of their freedom, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation — was really only celebrated by Texas’ Black community back then, in the 1950s and 1960s.
Now, sitting at a table inside the Navajo Civic Center at Comanche County Park, Hutchens is ecstatic that as of Thursday, the day is now a federal holiday.
That is “a very good thing,” she said, as it means that everyone across the nation — no matter their race or historical background — can now celebrate Juneteenth together.
Hutchens was at the civic center representing the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum during the first day of San Antonio’s annual two-day Texas Freedom Festival. She and others members were there to do what the group calls “history harvesting” — gathering documents, photos and other memorabilia, to help preserve the unique history of San Antonio’s Black community members, said Ken Stewart, the nonprofit’s archivist.
Founded in 2017, the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum aims to “collect, preserve and share the cultural heritage of African Americans in the San Antonio area,” according to its website. The museum, located in La Villita, includes several permanent exhibits that showcase San Antonio’s African American history. It also offers local community programming and courses on San Antonio’s Black history.
History harvesting is part of the group’s ongoing efforts to develop a larger cultural archive of San Antonio’s Black history. Also as a part of this project, Stewart said, Black community members can sign up to be video interviewed; those videos will then be added to the archives.
“These stories help the community gain perspective on the things that we’ve done well, and on how far we need to go, what we can learn, so [they] become a resource that can then be passed on from generation to generation,” he said.
The Juneteenth festival, which celebrates holiday with food, music, and vendors, was an obvious place to gather community members’ histories.
As a Black man, Stewart said Juneteenth is significant to him because it is a celebration of his own history. It is a recognition of freedom and pays homage to the Black Texans who came before him, he said, as well as to abolitionists, Union soldiers, and others who worked to end slavery in the U.S.
“It celebrates people that have come before me that have contributed to my overall wellbeing,” Stewart said.
Festival goers had similar sentiments. While waiting in line to buy some freshly fried fish, Turner McGarity said he comes out to the festival every year because it’s important to celebrate Juneteenth.
“We’re here to celebrate the day the slaves found out they had been liberated,” McGarity said. “We’ve come a long way in 100 years, but we still have another 100 years of work to do.”
Behind him, pop-up booths lined Comanche County Park with vendors selling jewelry, face masks, and baked goods. With loud, beat-bumping music filling the air, many people sat under the park’s large pavilion, eating fried fish and visiting with one another.
Flo Davis said she’s come to the festival every year for the past seven years to enjoy the music and small crowd.
“We have to appreciate everything our ancestors have done for us and appreciate where they’ve gone,” Davis said. “I’m glad we can do that in person this year now the virus is subsiding, since we didn’t get to come out last year.”
The second day of the festival runs Saturday from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. The Black history archivists will be history harvesting inside the civic center until 7 p.m. Proceeds from the festival will go to the Miller Child Development Center, an early childhood educational center that aims to prepare children for school.
“It’s important to celebrate history because if you don’t know your past, you can’t know your future,” Hutchens said. “If you don’t want to repeat the past, you have to know the past.”
For more information on events around San Antonio celebrating Juneteenth this weekend, click here.