Juneteenth Fireworks

Crowds watch June 19, 2021, as fireworks explode over Reaves Park during Juneteenth.

The City of Norman invites the public to Reaves Park Saturday for its second annual Juneteenth Festival — an expansion on its first year, according to one of the organizers.

A coordinated effort between a citizen-led committee, the City of Norman and the Norman Arts Council, the second iteration of the Juneteenth Festival begins at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Reaves Park, 2501 Jenkins Ave.

The event will run into the evening, with guest speakers, opportunities to support Black-owned small businesses, food trucks, a bounce house and a fireworks show. It will also feature a poetry reading — something planners added to this year’s festival.

Cinthya Allen, chief diversity and equity officer for the City of Norman, said she hopes to build on last year’s affair, where people of many backgrounds came together to celebrate the holiday and show what a unified community looks like.

“We’re so appreciative to have the commitment from our city manager, our city council and our mayor,” Allen said. “But it really goes beyond that to the citizens and local stakeholders that are interested and excited to be involved — we have the Norman Regional Health System, the Pioneer Library System and representation from the various entities that make Norman what it is for everyone.”

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when U.S. Army Gen. Gordon Granger and around 2,000 troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the war and that the slaves were free. Granger’s announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared enslaved people free on Jan. 1, 1863.

Norman’s first Poet Laureate, Julie Anne Ward, will read a poem specifically for the event. It’s an addition to the festival lineup.

George Henderson and his wife Barbara, the first Black homeowners in Norman, will once again open the event. The Hendersons moved to Norman in 1967.

George Henderson said Juneteenth and the festival highlighting it acknowledge that he and his wife aren’t just visitors passing through.

“We’re members of the Norman family and we celebrate the diversity issues and history of all people here,” Henderson said. “It’s the beginning of something that will be more inclusive.”

Allen said it’s always special to have the Hendersons as guests to highlight the cultural and historic value, and to bring inspiration.

Former University of Oklahoma quarterback and Congressman J.C. Watts will also speak at the event.

The festival will also have the 9th and 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, who will present a color guard. The graduate chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically Black fraternity, will host a domino tournament at the festival.

Multiple food trucks and a large selection of vendors to shop from will be at the festival Saturday.

“Of course we want to highlight and support Black-owned businesses, and we are opening it up for other local businesses as well,” Allen said.

A fireworks show will end the festival around 9:30 p.m., Allen said.

Everyone from Norman and the surrounding communities is encouraged to attend and bring a lawn chair. Allen emphasized the Juneteenth celebration is a family-friendly event.

“It just really has the feel of being in your own backyard with your friends and family, and that’s one of the special things about it,” Allen said. “We would love to welcome everyone in Norman and the surrounding areas to consider spending some time with us on Saturday evening.”

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at jelkins@normantranscript.com or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.

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