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When Birdia Johnson moved to Denton four years ago, the Denton Juneteenth Festival happened to be taking place.
“I’ve never seen such togetherness when I first saw the first Juneteenth celebration when I moved here,” Johnson recalled. “People were loving each other, they were happy, they were eating, sharing. It was just fun — it was a community effort.”
That positive experience urged Johnson to become part of the Denton Juneteenth Festival. This year she serves as chairperson of the Juneteenth Parade and a member of the Juneteenth Committee for the 2022 Denton Juneteenth Festival, taking place Friday, June 17th and Saturday, June 18th at Fred Moore Park in Denton.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth — which actually stands for “June Nineteenth” — celebrates the day in 1865 when United States federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to officially end slavery.
This event occurred two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by then-President Abraham Lincoln, abolishing slavery.
“The celebration is to celebrate when the word actually reached Texas that the slaves had been set free,” Johnson explains.
According to the Denton Juneteenth Festival’s website, the first announcement of Denton Juneteenth was published in 1892. And since the early 1970s, the City of Denton has supported the Denton Juneteenth Festival’s efforts, which in the past have included parades, softball tournaments, gospel concerts, and other activities.
Festival & Parade
This year’s Denton Juneteenth Festival begins on Friday, June 17th at 3pm with a Virtual Celebration. Johnson says this idea stems from when the event was held virtually in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
Johnson says the virtual program is for “people who can’t travel and can’t make it — they’ll be able to share with us and to see what we’re doing.” The virtual program will include a poet doing a reading and explanation of Juneteenth at a location of the Denton Public Library, as well as local singing groups.
Then at 7pm that evening, the festival has its Gospel Night at Fred Moore Park, which will include both local and out-of-state gospel musicians and groups.
“All our local churches will contribute something,” Johnson explains. “They will have a combined choir of all the local churches. And some of our churches have dancers, some of them have quartets. All of them will be participating and adding something to the celebration.”
Then on Saturday, June 18th, the second day of the festival kicks off with a softball tournament at 8am and the Juneteenth Parade and Opening Ceremony starting at 10:30am. The Parade starts in front of the Denton Civic Center, goes around Denton Square, and ends at Fred Moore Park.
Johnson says they have a wide variety of participants in the parade including school groups, car clubs, pageant winners, city officials, and much more. “It’s just a fantastic day of everybody getting to do what they do best,” she adds.
On Saturday at Fred Moore Park, the festival is scheduled to include a number of activities including a Mayor’s Declaration and Award Ceremony at 1pm, Heroes Reception at 2pm, and a DJ Spinoff at 4pm. Johnson said there’s also lots of children’s activities, vendors, and food vendors to see.
And at 7pm on Saturday, the festival concludes with live musical performances including singer Sweet Randi Love and singer, songwriter, actor, poet, and artist Rick James. A full line-up of all the musical performers scheduled for the Denton Juneteenth Festival can be viewed on their website.
“Going to Be a Great Day”
Obviously a large community event like this requires lots of volunteer support. Johnson urges anyone interested in volunteering their time at the Denton Juneteenth Festival to contact them through their website or contact the Denton MLK Jr. Rec Center to let them know they want to volunteer.
“All you have to do is let us know and we have a place that we can put you,” Johnson says. “We’re always in need of volunteers. Some will man the bounce houses for the children. Some will just be standing in different areas to make sure everything is running smoothly. And some of us just walk around and pick up trash. (There’s) a lot of things to be done.”
And Johnson urges the Denton community to come to this year’s festival, which she says not only educates our community on its past, but also shows us where we’re headed in our future.
“Come on out — you’ll be greeted by food, song, dance, (and) participation,” she explains. “We even have room for dancing if you just feel like you want to shake to the music. It’s going to be a great day. We would love everybody and we want everybody to come out and enjoy. You don’t want to miss this year.”
The Denton Juneteenth Festival takes place Friday, June 17th and Saturday, June 18th at Fred Moore Park in Denton. For more information on the Denton Juneteenth Festival, visit dentonjuneteenth.com or follow them on Facebook.
The Denton Juneteenth Parade takes place at 10:30am on Saturday, June 18th. The parade begins outside the Denton Civic Center, travels around Denton Square, and ends at Fred Moore Park. For more information on the parade, visit juneteenth.university/parade.