Temperatures soar, but so does excitement for Juneteenth celebration

Visitors to the Rosa Parks Museum's Juneteenth celebration visit a vendor booth on Saturday. Nearly 2,500 people attended the event.

Visitors to the Rosa Parks Museum's Juneteenth celebration visit a vendor booth on Saturday. Nearly 2,500 people attended the event.

Shade, whether from the shadows cast by the surrounding buildings or the large tent that stretched down the middle of Montgomery Street, was in high demand on Saturday as Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum held its seventh annual Juneteenth celebration.

Temperatures soaring into the middle to upper 90s did little to dissuade a crowd that was eager to celebrate the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It was June 19, 1865 when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were free.

Saturday’s day-long commemoration at the museum attracted an estimated 2,500 people. Participants visited vendor booths, enjoyed live musical entertainment, toured 1950s-era city and Greyhound buses, and toured the museum and its children’s wing free of charge.

A lot has changed since the museum’s first Juneteenth celebration, said Donna Beisel, the museum’s assistant director.

“We are obviously honored that we were the first ones to hold a Juneteenth celebration in Montgomery,” Beisel said. “When we started reaching out to people for that first event, many of them had not heard of Juneteenth and didn’t know the significance of it. We are all really glad that, especially in the last couple of years, the knowledge of it has grown and people are beginning to celebrate it more. It has become more of a citywide event.”

Juneteenth events were also presented by the City of Montgomery and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday.

Another major change since the museum launched its annual event came last year, just days ahead of the commemoration, as President Joe Biden signed legislation declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday. This year, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state holiday for June 20 in observance of Juneteenth.

The federal declaration brought an increased sense of excitement to last year’s event, despite heavy rains that fell most of the day in Montgomery as a tropical system tracked across the state. Much of that excitement was still evident on Saturday as participants braved the heat to enjoy the day’s festivities.

“We have heard several people say today that they were very glad that Juneteenth had become a federal holiday and that it was finally receiving the recognition it deserves,” Beisel said, noting that the next step would be for it to become an official annual holiday within the state.

“The response this year was very good and we are very pleased with the number of people who came out to celebrate with the Rosa Parks Museum,” she said. “In 2020, we were forced to do a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then, last year, we had heavy rains through most of the day. This year, we have had to deal with the heat, but I think the turn out demonstrates the excitement surrounding Juneteenth and the growing awareness of the significance of this celebration.”