OPELOUSAS — More than 100 people defied the looming storm clouds and gathered at the Opelousas Farmers Market on Saturday to celebrate the annual Juneteenth Folklife Celebration.
Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and declared that the Union had won the Civil War and all the slaves were free. The day was made an official state holiday in Texas in 1980, and the annual event in Opelousas has been celebrated for the past 34 years.
“We’re celebrating our ancestral past and all of our struggles together,” said Rebecca Henry, the event’s founder and organizer. “It’s about community. Our ancestors didn’t have much money, but I feel that if you have your family and your neighbors and your community around, then that’s a kind of richness.”
Henry said the celebration also was about learning the history of the event and why the Civil War was fought. Celebrating Juneteenth each year, she said, is a way for everyone to have a “consciousness of the endurance and struggle” of the slaves and the jubilation they felt when Granger made his announcement and the news “trickled down here” to south Louisiana.
The Juneteenth Folklife Celebration included arts and crafts, performances by local dance troupes, Creole cooking and traditional music and dances performed by the Attakapas Opelousas Prairie Tribe.
“We like to participate in all celebrations in St. Landry Parish, not just ours,” said Amy Cormier, director of public relations for the Attakapas Opelousas Prairie Tribe. “We also get to teach and present our culture and history and mingle with the people.”
Also performing at the celebration were Grammy-nominated Creole musician Goldman Thibodeaux and Grammy-nominated zydeco artist Geno Delafose.
At one point during the event, the Attakapas Tribe invited local dance troupe Raze of Hope, members of the audience and Opelousas Mayor Reggie Tatum to participate in a Round Dance, which is a traditional intertribal dance used to unify everyone present at an event.
“This is something that celebrates our culture here,” Tatum said after the dance. “Not just African-American but also Creole and Native American. We’re here to celebrate our culture and our history here and get people here to learn about it. We’ve gotta start with the young kids so they can learn and carry on that history and culture.”
Overall, Henry said the goal of the event wasn’t to attract hundreds to the celebration but instead to teach people about African-American history and culture so they can go out and teach others.
“I just want people to learn the history of this day,” Henry explained as she stood by a framed poster of the Emancipation Proclamation. “I want people to take a bit of info and learn it because it’s not gonna be in school curriculum. This is a one-day event, but it’s about learning a consciousness of endurance. It’s about freedom. It’s our Fourth of July.”