Here’s where to celebrate Juneteenth in Lafayette this week

Telling the Juneteenth story, and moreover, clarifying its history, are foremost on the minds of local organizers as area communities prepare to celebrate the national holiday earmarking the June 19, 1865, date when Texan slaves received official news of their freedom.

The news, an order that arrived in Galveston and was posted at the local “colored” church (Reedy Chapel today), came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, which led efforts to enact the federal holiday. Many in Texas disregarded federal compliance and actively tried to suppress news and celebration of the proclamation. Southern states would enact “slavery by another name” policies in the years after the war. 

Yet the holiday’s history may have been altered had it not been for the stormy Gulf. According to Abram Freeman, president of the Juneteenth Association of Louisiana, inclement weather led to Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops ending up in Galveston instead of New Orleans after he had been given the order to free African Americans in 1865.

More Lafayette community coverage

The year prior, on Sept. 5, 1864, Louisiana voters had ratified “the abolition of slavery.

Among assumptions was that Gen. Granger and mostly white troops arrived in Galveston. “White troops were with the general, but there were only a few,” says Freeman, past president of the Juneteenth celebration in Lafayette. “It was a majority of Black troops.”

NJOF estimates “more than 4,000 United States Colored Troops” arrived with the general. They had originally been sent to help secure the Texas-Mexico border against the French.

Another misconception, according to Freeman, was that a lot of slaves could not read. “There were several slaves who could read and free people of color who could read,” Freeman says. “They heard they were free, but just couldn’t believe they were free. But when they saw the colored troops get off the ship in Galveston, the word did not take long for them to start celebrating.”

And last but not least, and what Freeman considers of equal importance, is the misconception that the federal holiday is only for African Americans: “Juneteenth is also for the many non-colored Americans who died in the war because they believed every human deserves the right to self-determination,” he says.

Abram Freeman, who was instrumental in founding the local Juneteenth celebration Photo by Robin May

“Historically, if you read, people were more concerned with bringing the country back together,” he notes. “They had no problem with them [slaves] being free, but they had a problem with us being equal.”

Freeman stepped down as president of the Southwest Louisiana Juneteenth Committee to assume the presidency of the newly formed Juneteenth state association, which is a year and a half old with 16 members statewide thus far. But he remains active in the local region’s flagship celebration in Lafayette.

According to SWLA Juneteenth Committee’s current president, Susannah Johnson Malbreaux, this year’s celebration brings forth new activities and an open invitation to the public to join in. 

With new members comes new ideas, according to Malbreaux, and that is the main reason behind the expanded schedule, which includes a music festival, featuring zydeco artist Chubby Carrier and local reggae musicians, vendors, picnic and parade in Heymann Park; a barbecue cook off; lyrical expressions with an open mic; a family duo look-a-like contest; and a university scholarship for the pageant winner.

With festivities, slated for June 14-22, Malbreaux is certain that there is something for everyone to attend. “We want people to step out and enjoy the festivities like it was any other holiday,” Malbreaux says. 

Lafayette City-Parish President Monique Blanco Boulet will be the guest speaker for the SWLA Juneteenth Banquet at 6:30 pm on Friday, June 21 at the Downtown Convention Center.

Also among the eight-day schedule of events will be Move the Mindset’s Juneteenth commemoration, which features a panel discussion on “Voting: Past, Present and Future.” 

Panelists include Consuela Gaines, organizer of VOTE (Voice of the Experienced); Christy Green, president of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana; Rod Sias, president of the Opelousas Chapter of the NAACP; and Natalie Spencer, producer/director of the film, “The Chamber Room.” The event begins at 6 pm Monday, June 17 at the Downtown Convention Center, and also includes Pucci Percussions and Student Poetry & Art, as well as voter registration.

Woman in yellow shirt holding a poster
SWLA Juneteenth Committee’s current president, Susannah Johnson Malbreaux Photo by Robin May

Although it is not an official part of the Juneteenth celebration, La Maison Creole de Freetown, an African American history and cultural museum, will debut its Paul Breaux School exhibit on Thursday, June 13. For founder Erica Melancon Fox, the historical school has always been a part of her life being that her mother, Joyce Melancon, is among its alumni. 

“I thought it was important to keep the dialogue going about the legacy of Paul Breaux School,” she says, referring to recent controversy following the removal of the school’s gifted and immersion programs.

Fox’s goal is help to educate individuals on the school’s heritage and significance so that “we don’t have instances where we’re trying to save a community treasure at the last hour.”

An overview of Lafayette’s official Juneteenth timeline follows:

The Juneteenth Story (A Play)
Friday-Saturday, June 14-15 @ 7:30 pm
Acadiana Center for the Arts

The Juneteenth Story (A Play)
Sunday, June 16 @ 2 p.m.
Acadiana Center for the Arts

Move the Mindset’s Juneteenth Commemoration
Monday, June 17 @ 6-8 p.m.
Downtown Convention Center

40 Acres & a Mule (Adjudicated Property Presentation)
Tuesday, June 18 @ 6 p.m.
Downtown Convention Center

Juneteenth Opening Ceremonies & Flag Raising
Wednesday, June 19 @ 9:30 a.m.
Lafayette City Hall

Juneteenth Lyrical Expressions Spoken Word/Open Mic
Wednesday, June 19 @ 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Heymann Recreation Center

SWLA Juneteenth Banquet and National Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant
Friday, June 21
Downtown Convention Center

SWLA Juneteenth Music Festival & Stone Soul Picnic/Barbecue Cookoff
Saturday, June 22 @ 4:30-8:30 p.m.
Heymann Park

Children’s Parade
Saturday, June 22 @ 6:45 p.m.
Heymann Park

New Iberia Juneteenth Celebrations

At the Sliman Theatre, Phebe Hayes, founder of the Iberia African American Historical Society, will present “Unfolding of Emancipation in Post-Civil War New Iberia,” beginning at 11 a.m, Saturday, June 15.

Hayes will share her research on how the event impacted Black and white people locally at the time. Her address will follow the Juneteenth Poetry and Readings, scheduled for 10 a.m. and hosted by John Warner Smith, executive director of the Shadows-on-the-Teche and also a former state poet laureate.

Opelousas Juneteenth Celebrations

A Juneteenth Parade on Wednesday, June 12, kicks off an expanded three-day Juneteenth celebration by Creole Heritage, which was founded by Rebecca D. Henry. 

The parade begins at 6 p.m. at the South City Park and will end at the North City Park. Designated also as the Juneteenth Grand Jubilee, festivities continue at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 14 with the First Annual Juneteenth La La Gala at the Evangeline Downs Event Center, and feature zydeco artist Geno Delafose. 

On Saturday, June 15, the 40th Annual Juneteenth Folklife Celebration will be held 12:30-7:30 p.m. at the Farmer’s Market, and includes music, food and crafts and the first Gospel Explosion.