Juneteenth returns after pandemic

·6 min read

Jun. 15—This week's Juneteenth will celebrate on a smaller scale but organizers say that it means just as much to Odessans after a year spent in a pandemic.

Last year, Odessa's Juneteenth celebration was not held due to the pandemic.

This year, the celebration, which commemorates when word reached Texas that slavery had ended in the U.S., returns, albeit in a smaller setting.

However, with all the difficulties faced during the last 12 months, Black Cultural Council of Odessa President Jo Ann Davenport Littleton is glad for them to be able to put on this year's Juneteenth event.

"The last two years have been extremely hard," Littleton said. "It's been hard on our community and it's been hard on our board of directors. Last year, we weren't able to do anything. This year, we're having a smaller scaled version of a Juneteenth celebration."

Juneteenth marks the day from June 19, 1865, when the announcement of General Order No. 3, which transmitted news of the Emancipation Proclamation was made in Galveston by Union Army general Gordon Grander, proclaiming the end of slavery in Texas.

"It lets everyone reflect on history and the heritage of where you come from," Odessa Black Chamber of Commerce President Chris Walker said. "If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going. That is the day that the message came to this area. It's commemorating a milestone in history. It's good that it's celebrated. I wish some places would push to make it a national holiday. That's a very big part of our history."

It is the largest organized Juneteenth in Texas.

"Some places like Dallas have an afternoon (celebration) and that's it," Littleton said. "We have a three-four day event schedule."

This year's Juneteenth celebration in Odessa will begin on Friday and continue through Sunday.

The theme for this year will be "Our Future Matters."

Littleton says that theme will fit in for this year as they look to keep everyone safe by encouraging facemasks at all the events.

"I think our theme says it all," Littleton said. "As an organization, we care about the community and we did not want to take the chance of anyone getting sick due to the COVID-19. We would much rather be safe than sorry. A lot of the community members are upset because we're not having a full-blown Juneteenth celebration and then there are others that understand. I would much rather miss two or three days of fun than miss a lifetime. Lives are very important to us. We try to keep things in perspective. Our future matters."

This year's Juneteenth celebration will start on Friday with the Dallas Black Dance Theatre that will begin at 7 p.m. at the Ector Theatre.

It won't be the first time that the Dallas Black Dance Theatre has been in Odessa as Littleton said they were in town before the pandemic last year.

"We had them here (last) February before COVID hit and they enjoyed it and wanted to come back," Littleton said. "So we worked in conjunction with the Odessa council with the arts. We were able to work together to bring it here."

The events will continue on Saturday, starting with youth activities at Blackshear Auditorium starting at 10 a.m. which will include a performance by Shout Cheerleading.

At 2 p.m., there will be a presentation called Home Town Heroes: "Living the Dream" which will include former Permian standout Roy Williams who played at the University of Texas and enjoyed an eight-year career in the National Football League.

"These are some of our hometown heroes that went to Permian, OHS and they've come back home," Littleton said. "We want them to instill that into our young people to go out and make it big but come home and invest in your community. Each year, our organization has a Black History program where we award students from Odessa High and Permian and they're our stars. Sometimes they're overlooked."

The Hometown Heroes: Living the Dream will include a presentation of scholarships.

"We love kids," Littleton said. "We love the youth in our community. We invest a lot in our youth. We realized that we weren't going to be outside in the park so we decided that we can come up with the hometown heroes for our Juneteenth celebration.

"We have a scholarship banquet where we award scholarships. Due to COVID, we weren't able to do that this year. During the home town heroes, we'll be giving scholarships. Some of our graduating seniors will be awarded with scholarships. Also, we'll have door prizes. If you're in attendance, you'll have the opportunity to win $50 gift certificates. We'll be giving back to the community."

Following the Hometown Heroes presentation will be the annual Juneteenth Pageant.

Other events will be taking place including the Second Annual Regina McKnight Volleyball Tournament which will have all games played at Ector Fieldhouse. For more information, call 432-528-7257.

The Fourth annual 35 and older Legends Basketball Tournament will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday at Woodson Boys and Girls Club. For more information, call 432-978-8908.

The 40th Annual Danny R. Wright Juneteenth Basketball Tournament will be played Friday evening and Saturday at Woodson Boys and Girls Club. More information on that can be found at 432-978-8908.

The Dancer/White Car Show will take place from 1-5 p.m. Saturday at Woodson Park East parking lot.

"Though we have downsized, there is one that we have added this year and that's a car show," Littleton said. "For several years, we've been trying to incorporate a car show but these two gentlemen (Victor Dancer and David White) approached us and wanted to do a car show."

There will be masks at the doors of each event, Littleton said.

"As an organization, we feel that we're obligated to take care of our community and that's what we're doing," Littleton said. "The sporting events that we're doing, the volleyball tournaments, we'll be at the door with masks. Masks are highly recommended. ... We can't mandate it. All we can do is strongly recommend it because we don't know who has been vaccinated."

The celebration will end on Sunday with a Gospel by Reverend Eddie L. Jenkins at 3:30 p.m. at Blackshear Auditorium.

Jenkins is from Good Street Baptist Church in Dallas.

"As a race of people, when you look back over the last two years across the county and everything that's happened and what we've gone through, and we've gone through some things, even though we're in Odessa, we've gone through some things," Littleton said. "Juneteenth is when we celebrate. But the question pops up: what do we have to celebrate when all this across the nation is happening? Like I said, it's tough. But our theme says it all, our future matters."

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