'This is our Fourth of July': Juneteenth celebration planned at Seaside Park Saturday

On Saturday, Bridgeport’s Seaside Park will host the 29th annual Fairfield County Juneteenth Parade and Harambee Festival. But in many ways, this celebration feels like it is entering a new era, according to Wayne Winston, one of the festival’s organizers.

“We’ve been doing this for going on 29 years now, but Juneteenth has historically been celebrated across the country,” said Winston, a Trumbull resident. “But the holiday has grown a lot more in the past few years because of the rise in racist ideology. Just like a lot of folks are just now finding out about Tulsa, there are people now just finding out about Juneteenth.”

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of formerly enslaved people in the United States. It is observed in 47 states, typically with cultural celebrations.

Historically, the date refers to the emancipation of slaves in Texas. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, declaring all enslaved people in the Confederate states free. Texas, geographically the most remote of the Confederate states, was the site of the last battle of the Civil War on May 12-13, 1865, more than a month after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger took command of 2,000 federal troops charged with enforcing emancipation and the transition of power in Texas. According to the Texas Historical Commission, his troops marched through the streets of Galveston, reading General Order No. 3, freeing all enslaved people in the state.

“If you are an American, and you understand the importance of ending slavery in America, then you understand why this is a big deal,” Winston said. “All your life you’ve had to work sunup to sundown. You could be bought and sold. And suddenly you’re free. Imagine that whole, great jubilation. This is our Fourth of July. The way we celebrate gaining freedom by defeating England, we also defeated slavery.”

For years, though, Winston said people tended to look at Juneteenth as a Black holiday. That perception has been changing though as the country has become more willing to confront racial injustice, he said.

“There are still people who say, ‘That’s a holiday for Black people,’ but it’s not. Not really,” he said. “It’s a holiday for America. It’s a day when America triumphed over racism. That’s what we’re celebrating — the triumph over racism.”

The Seaside Park celebration, which begins at 11 a.m., includes live entertainment featuring Sage & the City Shout Steel Pan Orchestra. Organizers also have scheduled an African-inspired fashion show, children’s art projects, meet-the-author book signings, ethnic food trucks, the New Creation Step Team, and urban farmers market, craft and other vendors and COVID-19 screenings and vaccinations.

Winston said the social justice momentum in the country, combined with greater awareness of racial issues, could make this the biggest Juneteenth celebration yet.

“It’s the Juneteenth celebration for all Fairfield County,” he said. “Everyone can come celebrate with us.”