Events are planned this month to celebrate Juneteenth, a day commemorating the historical end of slavery in America. Garland Bray, of Fort Smith, a member of the local Juneteenth committee, said a celebration will be held June 15-17 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on north Greenwood Avenue.
"It's an open invitation to everybody," he said at a Friday news conference. "It is our celebration, but it's a celebration of all races. We've got lots of things going on - games, vendors, music. We plan for it to be a big weekend."
The free event will coincide with other national Juneteenth celebrations.
"Fort Smith will be joining Juneteenth celebrations in all 50 states, Japan, Italy, France, Guam and African nations in acknowledging the significance of the 19th of June as America's second Independence Day," said the Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr., chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.
Sponsors, Bray said, are making the free celebration possible.
"For the first time in Juneteenth history, since we've been having it, we're actually going to have a soccer tournament this year," Bray said. "We've got 40-some teams already registered for it."
Before those events, a noon flag-raising ceremony is scheduled for June 7 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The event is designed to honor "the slave legacy" of U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves.
"Bass Reeves was born a slave on an Oklahoma plantation," said Myers, the planned guest speaker. "We want to acknowledge Bass Reeves as a former slave who fought for his own freedom and became a great U.S. deputy marshal."
Including Arkansas and Oklahoma, 41 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance. U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., co-sponsored legislation recognizing Juneteenth as the historical end of slavery. Spokesman Michael Teague said Pryor's office will continue to support Juneteenth.
"It's a resolution recognizing the historical significance of the event," Teague said, "an important historical moment in our country."
While pleased with the support already shown by Congress, Myers is on a mission to see Juneteenth - traditionally the third Friday in June - become a national holiday.
"What we're asking from President Obama and Congress is to establish Juneteenth as a national day of Observance, like Flag Day or Patriot Day," he said. "We're not asking for a paid federal holiday, but a special day of observance. America needs healing from the legacy of enslavement. The first step to that healing to acknowledge slavery, acknowledge its historical significance and to celebrate freedom. We all celebrate the common bond of freedom as Americans."
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