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Just because the traditional Fresno Juneteenth celebrations were canceled, didn’t mean people couldn’t party and protest.

In a slightly condensed version, hundreds gathered in the triple-digit heat at Cultural Arts Park on Friday night to dance, mingle and protest.

The refreshed Black Lives Matter movement took center stage, as speakers talked about George Floyd, voting, and racial justice.

COVID-19 Scrapped Usual Juneteenth Celebration

“It’s just a lot of things in one that inspired me to go ahead with Juneteenth.”Organizer Adrian Harris

Fresno event promoter Adrian Harris usually holds a full festival to celebrate Juneteenth. The COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans this year.

The events surrounding the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police motivated Harris to create Friday’s event instead.

“Everyone just pushing forward, the black community, just empowering us as a whole with the whole police brutality. It’s just a lot of things in one that inspired me to go ahead with Juneteenth,” Harris said.

Many attending the event wore masks. Water and other snacks were available, including a food truck from Barb’s Soul Food.

Fresno firefighters were on hand. One said they were there to show support, but also to be available in case someone needed medical assistance.

A Message of Struggle and Hope

While the atmosphere was festive, event goers heard messages of black unity and struggle.

“Thank God people will no longer judge us by the color of our skin, but they would pay attention and honor the content of our character,” Pastor B.T. Lewis of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church preached.

African drumming group Libota Mbonda led the crowd in “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” chants.

Hundreds participated in a silent protest, either laying face-first on the ground like George Floyd, taking a knee or raising a fist in the air.

Fresno County Board of Education Trustee Daren Miller talked about the importance of voting.

Leading the crowd in a chant, Fresno State NAACP President D’Aungillique Jackson told the crowd “It is a duty to fight for our freedom. It is a duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Juneteenth’s Origins

The celebration of Juneteeth started with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South in 1863, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Laura Smalley, who was freed from a plantation near Bellville, Texas, remembered in a 1941 interview that her former master had gone to fight in the Civil War and came home without telling his slaves what had happened.

“Old master didn’t tell, you know, they was free,” Smalley said. “I think now they say they worked them, six months after that. Six months. And turn them loose on the 19th of June. That’s why, you know, we celebrate that day.”

It was June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his Union troops arrived at Galveston with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

Granger read from General Order No. 3, which said: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

The next year, the now-freed slaves started celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston, and the celebration has continued around the nation and the world since.

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