EDINBURG — With music and merriment, the city of Edinburg culminated its weeklong festivities celebrating Juneteenth on Saturday morning at the Edinburg Municipal Auditorium, the city’s 29th annual event observing the end of slavery in the United States.
Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina read a proclamation at the ceremony, recognizing Juneteenth as the oldest commemoration of ending slavery and will continue to be supported by the city.
Juneteenth observes the day word of emancipation reached the slaves in Galveston on June 19, 1865, after president Abraham Lincoln declared his Emancipation Proclamation.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed legislation to now federally establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
The milestone was celebrated at Saturday’s event through musical expression.
Joseph Mendez, a world-renowned violinist and musician, graced the audience with his talents and declared the sound of freedom using a shofar — a ram’s horn that’s ceremonially used as a trumpet primarily by people of faith.
It was the musical elements of the event which made it lively and encouraged participation among the audience to celebrate the recurring theme of unity.
Patrick Shelby, the event’s keynote speaker and athletic coordinator for McAllen High, spoke on the ways that he implements unity in his athletes.
“I believe it is each person’s duty to affect change and make it better for the next generation,” Shelby said.
Aside from the momentous change to nationally recognizing Juneteenth as a day of independence, locally the city’s tradition was slightly altered.
The event has always been held at the historical Restlawn Cemetery; however, this year it was relocated to the auditorium due to weather and mosquito infestations.
Restlawn’s presence is important to the Black community in the Rio Grande Valley because it served as the only cemetery in the 1920s where Black people were buried, at a time when segregation was prevalent throughout the country.
“Today we must acknowledge Hillcrest cemetery for its decision to allow Restlawn cemetery to coexist on their property, and this was at a time when such arrangements were not made easily or encouraged,” Dee Lopez, a member of the city’s Juneteenth committee, said at Saturday’s event.
Despite the event’s relocation, Hillcrest cemetery still made an appearance.
Festivities were carried out into the afternoon by a freedom caravan which traveled from the cemetery to Betts Elementary School, named after Melissa Dotson Betts, the first African American educator at Edinburg CISD.
Participants honked their horns as they drove by and received gifts from H-E-B before the Juneteenth Jubilee later Saturday evening.