Friday night and early Saturday morning there was rain and thunder.
The rain turned to a light drizzle about an hour before the annual feast Springfield Juneteenth Parade was to begin at the intersection of South Grand Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Once the 150 or so marchers started marching a few blocks together, the rain stopped, the sun finally came out, and the celebration of the revered holiday was clear to go uninterrupted.
After the parade, nearly 200 people gathered at Comer Cox Park Saturday to celebrate the 156th anniversary of the total abolition of slavery in the United States, a holiday known as juinteenth. It was the first June 10 celebration at the park since 2019 and June 1 to be recognized as a municipal, state and federal holiday.
“In the space of a year, look at what we were able to do because we were united,” said the state senator. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, during a speech to the crowd after the parade Saturday morning.
In 2020, the rally at Comer Cox Park was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Springfield residents acknowledged the party by marching to the State Capitol in a parade. The year was marked by calls for change at the local, state and federal levels to address long-standing social injustice against minorities.
In his speech, Turner referred to the importance of black history and the thought of his ancestors while working for the betterment of the future. His parents are from Texas, where the last slaves learned they were free in 1865.
“I would give anything for my ancestors to see me here today as the region’s first black lawmaker,” said Turner, who was appointed to her post in February.
The speech kicked off hours of celebration in the park, which had vendors and activities for children, immunization clinics, and barbecues galore.
Representatives of Springfield Jaycees, Memorial Medical Center and Springfield CORAL, among others, walked a mile along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and handed out candy and waved to dozens of people lined up along the street. The parade was led by cheerleaders from Springfield Southeast High School.
Republican and Democrat elected officials attended the event and even posed for a photo together on the front of the stage in solidarity. City workers, police and firefighters also attended the parade.
“We are here today thanks to understanding… but the job is not done until everyone really feels free,” Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said during his speech.
Saturday marked the third day of Juneteenth’s four-day celebration in Springfield. On Sunday, a fitness activity will begin at 9 a.m., followed by an outdoor wake-up call and music at 11 a.m. The holiday celebration was organized and administered by Springfield Juneteenth Inc.
Contact Riley Eubanks: [email protected], twitter.com/@rileyeubanks