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African American history and culture took center stage last weekend as thousands of people gathered at Innovation Quarter for the city’s 25th annual Juneteenth Festival. 

Juneteenth is the celebration of the country’s longest-running observance of the abolition of slavery. On June 19, 1885, soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, to announce that slavery had been officially abolished, nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth became a national holiday in 2021 and is celebrated on June 19. 

The City of Winston-Salem has been holding a Juneteenth Festival since 1999 and Triad Cultural Arts, Inc. has been hosting the event since 2004. The festival as we know it today, was first held at Winston Lake Family YMCA. From there the festival moved to the Benton Convention Center before finding its current home in Innovation Quarter a few years ago. 

Along with dozens of vendors, performances, and of course food, the festival also included health displays and information sessions, arts and crafts for children, and several speakers throughout the day. The festival also featured a Safe Bus Tour, which provided transportation for African Americans in Winston-Salem from the 1920s until the early 1970s.

To jump-start the celebration last Saturday, Jerry Anderson and Dr. Felicia Piggott-Anderson led a libation ceremony designed to honor our ancestors. Mayor Allen Joines and Mayor Pro Tem Denise ‘DD’ Adams then thanked Triad Cultural Arts for continuing the tradition. 

“Twenty-five years of this event here in Winston-Salem and we are so proud that the City of Winston-Salem has now declared Juneteenth an official holiday,” Joines said. 

Adams, who represents the North Ward, told the crowd gathered around the stage about her great grandmother, East Mungo, who was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1842. Mungo died when Adams was nine years old, but not before telling her what it was like the day they found out they were free. 

“She told me how they ran down the roads, crying, screaming, shouting and praying, and every time I tell this story I get very emotional,” Adams said. “It’s just a reminder that all African Americans, I don’t care where you are or where you’ve been, you are a dependent of a slave, and in this moment we take the time to celebrate the freedom of our people.”