Juneteenth and Houston’s Emancipation Park have had a special connection since the park was established 145 years ago. That connection is being fortified with the celebrations planned this year as the park unveils a massive overhaul that will bring new life to the Third Ward.
Understanding the shared history of the park and the holiday can help people better appreciate the significance of each. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston read aloud the proclamation that "all slaves are free," two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring an end to slavery. The following year, freed men organized the first of what became annual Juneteenth celebrations to commemorate the end of slavery in Texas.
However, the freed African Americans were barred from using Houston’s public parks to celebrate Juneteenth, so in 1872, four successful African-American ministers and businessmen led the effort to create Emancipation Park. Richard Allen, Rev. John Henry "Jack" Yates, Rev. Elias Dibble and Richard Brock paid $1000 for four acres of parkland located southeast of the city center to host Juneteenth celebrations.
After having trouble raising money for payments and taxes, the property was foreclosed on, but in 1916 the city of Houston was appointed as trustee, making it the oldest public park in Houston.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as an official state holiday. Twenty-seven years later, community concern and interest grew in renovating the park, which had fallen into disrepair. In 2013, a groundbreaking was held for a $33 million dollar renovation of Emancipation Park.
Phillip Freelon, noted for leading the design team for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C was selected as the architect to head the renovation of Emancipation Park.
The renovation effort includes: a new 16,000 square foot recreation center with a gymnasium and weight room; an upgraded baseball field, tennis and basketball courts. The existing community center was restored to more closely resemble the original design from 1938, and the stage area called Blessings Theater was also restored to provide space for outdoor or indoor performances. The swimming pool was updated and replaced; so was the existing pool house, which can now be used as a venue for special events. Children visiting the park will be able to enjoy a few new features like a splash pad, playground, and walking trail.
The park was closed to the public during renovations, but now that the work has been completed, Houstonians will once again celebrate Juneteenth in Emancipation Park.
Through the years, Juneteenth has become a celebration full of traditions and customs that reflect the journey of African-Americans from slaves to free men and women. You can be part of the renewed celebration when Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner leads the rededication ceremony of Emancipation Park, Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 12:00 noon, along with an all-day festival open to the public as well.
On Monday, June 19, 2017, Emancipation Park will become the center of Houston’s Juneteenth celebrations with live entertainment, performers, art vendors, and much more, all free to the public.
For more information and details on other Juneteenth events taking place in the greater Houston area, click here: Juneteenth Events 2017.