Although Juneteenth has only been recognized as a federal holiday in the United States since 2021, the day has a special and storied significance to residents of Houston, who have gathered at Emancipation Park to exchange dialogue, celebrate and reflect for over a century. This year, as the park turns 150, they are planning a series of special events to celebrate the historic milestone.
Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865, the date enslaved people across Texas learned that they were free, two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Emancipation Park was founded in 1872 when formerly enslaved African Americans and other members of their communities came together to purchase ten acres of land in the area now known as Houston’s Third Ward. The founders intended for the park to be a space where African Americans could enjoy their freedom. “Most people don’t know that Emancipation Park is the oldest park in the city of Houston, and I would dare say the oldest public park founded and purchased by African Americans in the state of Texas,” Ramon Manning, board chairman, Emancipation Park Conservancy told The Root.
This year, to commemorate the park’s big birthday and honor Juneteenth, Houston’s Emancipation Park Conservancy is hosting a special summer celebration. The festivities will include a series of “Emancipation Conversations” on key issues impacting African Americans, including HBCUs and the COVID-19 pandemic. Special guests include Dr. Rod Paige, former US Secretary of Education, and PJ Floyd, brother of the late George Floyd. The events will conclude with a two-day festival on June 18 and 19 at Emancipation Park featuring local vendors, activities for kids and musical performances from The Isley Brothers, Kool & The Gang, Sheila E. and more. “This special anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on our history, consider the strides we have made in moving our communities forward, and acknowledge the work still ahead of us,” said Manning. “The hopes and legacy of our founders — celebrated that very first Juneteenth in the park — lives on through our efforts to mold it into a place for learning, recreation and jubilation.”
The significance of the day is not lost on Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is serving as honorary event chairman. “The park reflects the beauty, strength and resilience of its founders,” he said in a press release shared with The Root. “The Emancipation Park 150th Juneteenth celebration will be a grand event to honor the past, embrace the present and look to the future.”
Emancipation Park’s 150th Juneteenth celebration is free and open to the public. For more information, visit epconservancy.org.