Stacey Lee, Rasan Jacobs and Lalaina Caudle of Level 5 Restaurant take time for a photo at the jubilee.
Reminder Publishing photos by Sarah Heinonen

SPRINGFIELD — Community members came out to Mason Square on June 14 to celebrate the upcoming Juneteeth holiday, commemorating the day the last enslaved people learned they were free.

On June 19, 1865, nearly two years afer the Emancipation Proclamation as signed by President Abraham Lincoln, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and read the following: “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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth, Emancipation Day or Freedom Day by communities across the country. In 2021, President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a national holiday.

In 2020, Springfield City Councilor Tracey Whitfield and then-Councilor Justin Hurst led a group of volunteers in organizing the first Juneteenth Jubilee. This year, the Juneteenth Jubilee Committee organized a flag raising at the Black Vietnam Veterans Monument in Springfield’s Mason Square. While a strong but brief storm forced that event to be moved inside to the area branch of the library, the rain did not stop the community from coming out to a block party on Andrews Street, outside the Level 5 restaurant, which provided food for the event. The block party was hosted by comedian Gerald Kelly, with music provided by HOT 93.1’s DJ Buck. The following day, a Family Fun Day was hosted at Blunt Park.

“The point is for us to come together, showcase our youth in a good way,” said Whitfield. “We can celebrate our freedom, celebrate our community.” Part of celebrating the community was the partnerships and collaboration with area businesses and vendors, who sold food and jewelry and crafts at the events. “It’s good, clean, family fun,” Whitfield said.