Last week, community members and families joined the city of Kyle and the newly founded Kyle Cultural Awareness Group in celebrating their first ever Juneteenth event at Wallace Middle School.
A little history on the holiday that might not be commonly known is that on June 19, 1865 a Union Army major announced to Texas that slavery had ended two and a half years previously. June 19, or Juneteenth, is now considered one of the most popular annual celebrations of the emancipation from slavery in the United States.
Although not officially recognized as a national holiday, Juneteenth is seen as an unofficial holiday, especially by African Americans. It is also recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 45 states, including Texas.
Juneteenth commemorates an important part of American history, and rather than being a solemn day, it is considered a day of celebration.
“Juneteenth itself is a celebration. A lot of people think it’s something negative but celebrations are something you’re excited about. We’re excited that African Americans were free, they were no longer slaves, Texans were free,” Founder and President of the Kyle Cultural Awareness Group Laura McMahon said.
She continued, “This is something that not a lot of people are educated about and something that I wanted to bring out to the community to bring more awareness.”
As part of the Juneteenth celebration, community members participated in a pie eating contest, watched interpretative performances from local dancers, listened to an educational speech on the history of Juneteenth from Mayor Travis Mitchell, and sang the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Naissa Bayo, an incoming freshman at Lehman High School, was chosen by one of her teachers to introduce the anthem. She said she did not know the history behind the song before presenting it, but she enjoys celebrating Juneteenth each year, usually with a barbecue and family gathering.
Malyne Wilkins is a Texas University at Austin art student, and grew up in Kyle. Although she’s never celebrated Juneteenth before, she wanted to help set up Kyle’s first ever celebration.
“It’s a great opportunity to not just celebrate a very important moment in Black History but also to get out the understanding of different experiences and also to remember that it’s all about unifying, especially now, about unifying the state and unifying us all as people.”
The community event stems from the founding principals of McMahon’s group which she said she put together in February to educate people in Kyle about different cultures and heritages in the city and the world.
“Right now, based on things going on in the world, I thought it was important for us to get together and learn about different cultures so we can work together,” McMahon said.
Efforts to put on the event came from the cultural awareness group and also from Council member Dex Ellison. Ellison said he was inspired to help push for the city’s first celebration by his constituents.
“This is one of the reasons I ran for city council,” Ellison said. “It’s to do things that people want to see done in their community and I saw a great need that they wanted something like this going on and I said ‘let’s do it.’”
With such a great turnout at the first event as a group, and the city’s first Juneteenth event, both McMahon and Ellison said they are excited to make the celebration an annual city event.