Fairbanks celebrates Juneteenth with festival at Bernice Allridge Park

Fairbanks celebrates Juneteenth with festival at Bernice Allridge Park

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) – On Saturday, June 15, the Fairbanks community celebrated Juneteenth, at Bernice Allridge Park.

After hundreds of years of slavery in North America, the Union defeated the recently seceded Confederate States of America ending the Civil War. During this time, slavery was also abolished by President Abraham Lincoln but it wasn’t until 1865, that the last slaves in America would be free. This occurred in June of 1865, and the Juneteenth was the name given to the historic development.

Each year this event is celebrated across the country including Fairbanks. “This is a community event and when we can get the community together just to say hey let’s celebrate – that’s a wonderful thing,” said Carlene Tillery, the vice president of the Fairbanks Branch NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

On Saturday, that’s just what happened as a gathering of community members came together at Bernice Allridge Park on Wilson Street. From noon to 4 p.m. people reflected on the struggles of the past and rejoiced the prosperity that now exists. “You know there’s a lot of people and I’ve said this to others that don’t know and they don’t recognize the significance of Juneteenth,” said Bennie Colbert, the president of the Fairbanks Branch NAACP. That significance being the last slaves in the United States in Galveston, Texas, that were freed in 1865.

To start the festivities, soldiers from the 11th Air Borne Division presented the colors while Willa Watts sang the national anthem. Prayers were also recited and Watts returned to the stage once more to sing the negro national anthem, Lift Every Voice. Closing the ceremony, former Fairbanks mayor Jim Matherly read a proclamation from Gov. Mike Dunleavy, recognizing Juneteenth in Alaska.

After the opening ceremony folks were able to enjoy free food while music was played and other speakers would take to the stage to share information and historical facts. There were also other performances such as songs and dances performed by an Inupiaq group.

While Alaska had yet to be purchased from Russia by the United States in 1865, that purchase occurring in 1867, the Fairbanks community has been celebrating the day for decades. “We’ve been celebrating Juneteenth in this community since the seventies, since I was a little kid coming up,” said Colbert.

Despite the young age of Alaska as a state and as a former territory of the United States, the legacy of black Alaskans is deep and strong especially in Fairbanks. “Blacks in Alaska have made a way… there were blacks that came to Alaska that even worked on the pipeline and paved the highway going north so there’s a lot of history of what has been established here,” Tillery said. “Fairbanks has always had a pretty robust and thriving black community and to see the black members of this community come together as one – it’s huge,” Colbert exclaimed.

Reflecting back on some of that legacy, a great deal of it is connected to the armed forces. Even today, a large part of that community still has ties to the military which holds a great deal of significance on Juneteenth. Much like the men and women in arms here in Fairbanks in 2024, black soldiers have always been a pivotal part of Juneteenth and they too were remembered during the event. “Our fore fathers and ancestors – had they not fought for this or fought for Juneteenth, we wouldn’t be here today,” Colbert said. “They set the foundation and the ground work and now we’re able to build on it and we’re going to continue building.”

Juneteenth became an established federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed a bill passed by congress designating June 19, as the official date.

About The Author


Juneteenth Today: Your Online Hub for the Latest News and Insights on Juneteenth

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No comments to show.