Juneteenth events in Irmo, Lexington look to grow — and grow awareness

Posted 6/14/23

Juneteenth continues to be a more and more prominent holiday in the U.S., and it’s a trend that very much applies to the Midlands and Lexington County.

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Juneteenth events in Irmo, Lexington look to grow — and grow awareness


Juneteenth continues to be a more and more prominent holiday in the U.S., and it’s a trend that very much applies to the Midlands and Lexington County.

The June 19 commemoration marks the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger's General Order No. 3 officially freed all remaining slaves in Texas, one of the final measures ending the practice of slavery in America.

Today, Juneteenth, which was made a federal holiday in 2021, commemorates the emancipation of all enslaved African Americans in the U.S.

Several Municipalities in the county have made Juneteenth an official holiday. Lexington and Swansea became the latest when they did so last year, with Swansea swapping out Confederate Memorial Day for Juneteenth on its slate of holidays. They joined Lexington County neighbors Irmo and Cayce in recognizing Juneteenth, along with other nearby municipalities like Columbia and Orangeburg.

Events marking the occasion also continue to gain momentum.

In Columbia and Blythewood, the Juneteenth Freedom Festival spans more than a week, including a June 17 main event at Segra Park, a June 18 Joy Fest concert at Colonial Life Arena and a parade on the Juneteenth holiday.

And in two of the Lexington County towns to recognize Juneteenth, Lexington and Irmo, there are Juneteenth events continuing to grow.

The Lexington Branch of the NAACP will hold its Juneteenth Community Freedom Festival Saturday, June 17, featuring cultural performance in song and dance, along with exhibits, vendors and food. The family-friendly event is meant to educate the community about the significance of the  holiday, and organizers say the increasing support of the holiday both locally and beyond makes them hopeful that they can keep growing their celebration in its fourth year.

The theme for this year’s festival is “The Road to Freedom.”

“I think it's important that the town recognizes this component of the overall history,” Cedelle Gates, chair of the Lexington NAACP’s Education Committee, told the Chronicle about holding the festival now that the town has made Juneteenth an official holiday. “I think it's a major, let's say accomplishment, a major achievement of the Lexington community. And I applaud the town and, of course, its leadership for taking that step.”

Ethel Corley, chair of the Lexington NAACP’s Juneteenth Committee, reasoned that the attention brought to Juneteenth by other events in the area can only help theirs grow.

“It's wonderful that we are all celebrating, and we are all having different types of events. Ours is more local, but a lot of them are bringing in well known artists,” she said. “We are still small, but we hope to grow.”

One bigger artist brought in locally that Corley mentioned is coming to the celebration in Irmo, as Ron Daise (best known for starring on the ’90s Nickelodeon show “Gullah Gullah Island) will present a program of Gullah Geechee poetry, songs and heritage at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College. The prelude to the main festival at Irmo Community Park is sponsored by the town’s Youngs Chapel AME Church.

The Town of Irmo, which puts on the Juneteenth festivities there, brought a big crowd to its second annual festival last year, when it was included among the slate of programming for Columbia’s Juneteenth Freedom Festival.

Beyond the Gullah Geechee performance, Irmo's festivities will also include a home buying workshop, military hero recognition, praise dancing, a fashion show and food trucks.

“We are super excited about the fact that we got participation from the local churches in Irmo, not only the African-American churches, but the white churches also,” Irmo Mayor Barry Walker said. “They're all gonna come out and celebrate together as one the Juneteenth festival. So I'm just super excited that we have a town that embraces diversity and embraces the fact that we're paying homage to this day.”

The mayor, who is Black, emphasized that the holiday is “Emancipation Day” in explaining the festival’s importance.

“I think people need to be aware of where we came and how far we've come,” he said. “So having an opportunity to showcase what Irmo has, the people that grew up and made Irmo what it is, that’s what we’re doing, as well as recognizing and paying homage to the fact that we were once slaves, but we're on this day we finally emancipated, the entire country. That's the important message I want to get out.”

For the Lexington NAACP, highlighting the history associated with Juneteenth and the African-American experience is particularly important right now, as debates rage about critical race theory and what Americans should be taught about our history and when.

“This literally is the history of this huge country,” Gates said. “And there are many, many, many other kinds of events, not just the Juneteenth event, but many other kinds of events that happened in the in the arenas of African-American history, of Native American history ... all of the other components of our history that were brought here, and it's a major part of it, it all makes that tapestry of the history of the United States of America. So it's just as important as other events.”

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