History and community came together at the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center, as Irving leaders and city supporters gathered to celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday, June 17. Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, celebrates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas. That announcement, made on June 19, 1865, came years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862.
Although roughly half of the U.S. states acknowledge Juneteenth, Texas is the only state that has issued the event a legal state holiday. The 1865 announcement affected roughly 250,000 slaves in Texas, and the date has been celebrated every year since.
“It’s just one of those lessons that need to be taught each year,” said Jackie Madden, special events supervisor for the city of Irving. “You want it to always be at the top of a person’s mind. You always want to create awareness about it, so it doesn’t get lost.
Most celebrations happen on the local level and are a chance for communities to come together and reflect on the past and think about the future. The city of Irving has been sponsoring the event for over 20 years.
“It’s usually communal,” said Crystal Williams, a mentor at DVA Productions, Inc. “Your families are getting together, and you’re getting together with neighbors just celebrating freedom. It’s kind of a precursor to July 4th.”
DVA Productions, Inc., a non-profit theater company based out of Fort Worth, performed “The Magic of Museums” as part of their young artists mentor program.
“Every year we mentor young artists from our community who are interested in writing, acting, singing, musical theater, directing, whatever,” said Sheran Goodspeed Keyton, founder and artistic director of the organization. “We give them opportunities to perform in a professional realm with other professionals.”
Rev. Dennis Webb led a welcome prayer, and Tony Grimes, President of the Irving Carrolton Branch of the NAACP, helped sign up young men and women to vote. Ms. Mature Irving, Marilyn Wolford, offered the official welcoming and was thankful for the communal spirit surrounding the day’s festivities.
“We’ve got good people, good food, and great weather. God is good,” she said.
The event included a complimentary community picnic sponsored by In-N-Out, games, line dancing, and a musical celebration by VIBE The Band Concert. People could also join one of the ongoing tours of the Black History Museum.
“We really want them to take advantage of visiting the African American museums that we have on the property, because it’s just one of the vehicles of education throughout the world that’s telling a story of Black history,” Madden said. “We have that tool right here in our community and we want people to always remember this is a resource for Black history.”
The Bear Creek community in west Irving is one of the oldest African-American communities in Texas. The Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center is comprised of three museums that tell the history of the Bear Creek community and the African-American experience from the time of emancipation through the Civil Rights movement. Ongoing Black History museum tours are conducted by the Irving Museum Board.
“The story needs to go on for generations,” Madden said. “This is the way to keep the story going.”