Juneteenth dancing

Creedance Love, of Baltimore, dances to the music of Pittsburgh’s House of Soul band during Juneteenth festivities Saturday, June 15, 2019, at Peoples Natural Gas Park in downtown Johnstown.

Johnstown’s week-long Juneteenth celebration is a time for the entire community to come together and embrace the spirit of this important occasion.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery, and specifically the arrival of Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, after the end of the Civil War, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation – signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln more than two years earlier.

As Clea Hollis, secretary of African American Heritage Society Inc. in Johnstown, noted in her recent op-ed piece, 46 states now recognize Juneteenth – Emancipation Day. Pennsylvania designated Juneteenth as a state holiday in 2019.

Johnstown’s celebration is among the biggest in the state – running from Saturday through June 19.

The party opens with a day of music at Peoples Natural Gas Park. Gates will open at 1 p.m. Saturday, and acts scheduled to perform include Smooth Sound Band from Johnstown; House of Soul from Pittsburgh; The Problem from Philadelphia; Sisters With Soul from Cleveland; Michael Jackson entertainer Aaron Jefferson; and local neo soul and rap artist Mercedes Barnette.

Events are then scheduled all week at Johnstown’s Central Park, starting with a church gathering Sunday and continuing with historic and cultural events each day – with musical performances and basket raffles galore. The celebration will conclude a “Tribute To Heroes” gathering on June 19.

The events are sponsored by the Johnstown Branch of the NAACP and other local organizations.

“We take pride that ours isn’t just one day,” Deacon Jeffrey Wilson, an event organizer, told reporter Kelly Urban.

“We hope the events will be well attended, and it’s giving the city of Johnstown another great event to celebrate.

“We’re also hoping it helps educate the area on African American culture, food and music.”

We see the Juneteenth celebration is an opportunity for the entire community to embrace the significance of this moment and to learn more about the history of slavery, emancipation and race relations.

We hope the venues are packed each day with a diverse representation of our region – all ages and ethnic backgrounds.

As a bonus, Highlands Health free clinic will offer COVID-19 vaccines at Juneteenth events on Saturday, Tuesday and June 18 – as we reported Wednesday.

“This is a great opportunity as we celebrate the end of slavery to be able to offer shots to the minority community,” Wilson said. “When you look at the numbers, the African American community, locally and nationally, has been lagging behind other groups of people in America in getting the vaccine.”

As Randy Griffith, our health care reporter, wrote in a May 31 story, data show that while Black residents make up 11% of Pennsylvania’s population, they have accounted for just 5% of vaccines administered.

And attendees of all backgrounds can get vaccinated at the Juneteenth clinics – and be eligible for prizes, including a Pittsburgh Steelers gift basket.

“The goal is to reach as many people as we can to be vaccinated,” Highland Health Executive Director Rosalie Danchanko said.

We share Wilson’s enthusiasm for the Johnstown Juneteenth celebration as an event for everyone – to learn about one another and to embrace Johnstown’s cultural history, and our shared future.

“This helps get the education out about what Juneteenth is in America, it provides diverse entertainment to the area by having blues and rhythm and blues groups,” Wilson said.

“And it’s a family-fun event for the city where people of all ages and all walks of life can come in and see a great event that Johnstown offers.”

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