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Juneteenth organizers expecting hefty crowd

 


CLOVIS — Let freedom ring.

Organizers for this year’s Juneteenth program are expecting a larger turnout than ever, as two of Clovis’ annual events commemorating the end of slavery in the United States join forces today with a community-wide celebration at Potter Park.

“I’m looking for at least 2,000,” said William “Peel” Hall, who along with a small cohort first organized the free community meal for the occasion 26 years ago. “And I have the food to feed them.” Attendees can expect fried catfish, barbecue ribs, hotlinks and chicken, peach cobbler and potato salad.

Clovis’ NAACP branch meanwhile enters its eighth year this weekend with church-centric programming of presentation, prayers and musical performances, said its president, Selmus Price.

Price said he was most interested “to see how the community responds to the joint effort,” anticipating turnout “will probably increase tremendously.”

While Hall’s event often fell on the Saturday nearest (and before) June 19, the NAACP branch event has often “been done on Sunday in church settings,” near that date, Price explained. To both men, combining the two was sensible and probably overdue.

“I said we should have done this a long time ago,” Hall said.

“It had been discussed somewhat in the past, and some individuals had expressed the interest in putting them together,” Price told The News. “We are funded actually by the (New Mexico) Office of African American Affairs, and that particular funding does not cover food.”

Meanwhile food is what Hall, through support from contributing businesses and other organizations, foregrounds with the event he and a small group of friends and family started more than a quarter-century back. He said there was a prior Juneteenth celebration at Hillcrest Park, but he disagreed with the fact then that it charged for fare.

“Back then, it just hit me. They used to do sort of the same thing at Hillcrest, and they would set up booths and the food was five, six dollars a plate, and you had kids walking around and they don’t have five dollars,” he said. “I thought about it and I came back to the barbershop, and we set down and talked. ... I said any time I start something I do it to the fullest, I don’t do anything halfway.”

Hall’s event commenced near the south end of town, and soon “got so big that First Street couldn’t hold us anymore,” he said.

The event then moved to its current location at Potter Park, and has grown every year since then. Hall has warded off efforts to charge attendees during that time.

“They wanted to set up booths and stuff,” he said. “I said I don’t want anybody selling anything here, trying to make a dime because your ancestor was in chains.”

Of course, the celebration originated as a celebration of the June 19, 1865, announcement in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were free, more than two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

“It’s more or less the dates that the Texas slaves found out about it,” Price explained. “It’s a symbolic date and everything. That’s the reason for this celebration. Not all states actually sign off on it, but most of the southern states do.”

Price said it was important to keep that history prominent, “to make sure that this era is not forgotten.”

To that end, programming this afternoon includes a number of presentations: one on Juneteenth history, another from a piece of writing titled “A Nation in Pain” by late Clovis educator Alice Wise-Corbin, and a special presentation about Josiah Henson, “a slave, an antebellum abolitionist” who was the subject of a recent biography and documentary.

For Hall, 71, staying in touch with the past can also mean talking directly with elders — all the better if it’s over a free plate.

“You sit down and listen to the old people talk, you’d be surprised, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of jail houses,” he said. “If they sit down and listen to what the elders say about what went on back then and now ... when you get together and decide to do something and everybody’s pulling the same weight, everything works out right.”

The joint Juneteenth Celebration starts at 10 a.m. at Potter Park, on Upsilon Street between West Grande Avenue and Seventh Street. Programming begins at 11 a.m., but healthcare and information exhibits from local and state agencies will be available before then.

 

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