Juneteenth Parade and Festival

The UNITY Committee of Malvern is comprised of local individuals who want to celebrate freedom and African American culture, spread love beyond race and color and commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. As such, the committee  is currently organizing a two-day “Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom Weekend” to take place in downtown Malvern June 17 and 18.

Juneteenth National Independence Day, celebrated annually on June 19 and also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day or Black Independence Day was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas in 1865, but the day was not recognized federally until President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17, 2021.

Enslaved people in America experienced emancipation at different times because of widespread resistance to the transition throughout many of the Southern states. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which freed enslaved people in Union states, but Confederate states did not recognize federal laws until Union troops moved into and across the Southern states and enforced the legislation.

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 to coincide with an announcement made on that day back in 1865 from Gen. Gordon Granger with the Union Army. Granger’s General Order No. 3 brought emancipation to enslaved people in Texas, which was the last state in the Confederacy to uphold institutionalized slavery.

Kay Bishop is one of the volunteers making preparations for the Malvern celebration. She said several other cities around the state will be doing their own Juneteenth events, and she and others in town wanted to provide the residents of Hot Spring County a way to come together and commemorate the day without having to travel to another city.

The Juneteenth celebration in Malvern will commence with a parade through the downtown area on the evening of June 17 and will pick back up on June 18 with a festival taking place at Centennial Park beginning at 4 p.m. Parade participants will meet at the Malvern High School at 5:15 p.m. on June 17 and take the procession through the downtown area.

Plans for the festival are still shaping up, but the day will feature a lot of great food, great music, a DJ, a bounce house, a popcorn machine and guest speakers who will talk about the history and significance of Juneteenth with the attendees.

Volunteers are trying to organize horse rides, a dunking booth and fireworks for the celebration, and they are currently selling raffle tickets for a flatscreen TV that will be awarded to the lucky winner at the festival on June 18.

Bishop said organizers are currently looking for vendors and participants who want to join the celebration that weekend. Registration forms for those interested in being part of the Juneteenth parade and/or festival, as well as tickets for the raffle, can be picked up at 3J’s Wings & More, Lot 7 or the Malvern Housing Authority.

Bishop said she was asked to be part of the celebration planning by local business owner and UNITY Committee member Charnescia “Charli” Lee-Carroll, who is one of the main catalysts behind this year’s Juneteenth festivities.

Lee-Carroll said she wanted to bring the Juneteenth celebration to Malvern because both the date and the history are significant to her, personally, and because the city has not had a celebration such as this in recent memory.

“The kids—especially African-American kids, although this is a celebration for everyone—they don’t know about Juneteenth. It’s so important to pass it down,” Lee-Carroll said. “My son was actually born on Juneteenth, and I had no idea about it.”

Lee-Carroll said when her son was born, her aunt informed her of the significance of the date. Lee-Carroll then began researching the date and the events surrounding it, the history of emancipation in America and her own family history.

Her research led her to learn about her ancestor Scipio Jones, a famed black Arkansas lawyer best known for his success in obtaining the release of 12 black men who had been sentenced to death for their alleged involvement in the “Elaine Massacre” of 1919.

The Elaine Massacre is a blight on Arkansas history as the deadliest instance of racial violence in the state, and possibly in the nation. A shooting at a gathering of black sharecroppers quickly turned into days of terror as a mob of between 500-1,000 angry people descended on the small town and slaughtered countless unarmed African-Americans.

Five white men and at least 25 black men—likely more, possibly hundreds—were killed during three days of fighting in Elaine, Arkansas during that 1919 incident. Dozens of black men were arrested and sent to prison in addition to the 12 condemned individuals. By 1925, Jones had helped to negotiate the release of about 72 African-American individuals who were detained for their involvement.

Lee-Carroll said learning her family’s history really touched her and made her want to share her newfound love of history with her kids and others in the community. She added that the Juneteenth celebration is open to all races, genders, and ethnicities and will warmly welcome all the diverse cultures of the residents in Hot Spring County.

 “My family is mixed, we have Black, White, Mexican, a little bit of everything, but it’s so important to know about your actual heritage and to be able to pass that on to your kids, so that they can know that it doesn’t end here,” Lee-Carroll said. “We have so much to look forward to, and this is a day to really celebrate.”

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