By Olga Peña
Killeen Daily Herald
Killeen's first Miss Juneteenth has been crowned, kicking off a weekend of activities as the community celebrates an historic emancipation day.
It's been more than a century since Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of Texas and enforce the emancipation of its slaves.
Now, 143 years later, communities across the United States are still celebrating Juneteenth – June 19, 1865 – and Killeen is no exception.
Roosevelt Huggins is chair of the Killeen Juneteenth committee, which has organized the annual celebration since 1989. Huggins has helped plan every celebration since.
"It's for the community. It's for everyone," Huggins said of the celebration and its many events, which are all free and open to the public.
Killeen's celebration commemorating the official end of slavery in Texas started with the vision of Ora Washington in June of 1989, a former Killeen National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president, Huggins said.
Once Washington, Huggins and other longtime community members took a drive and witnessed another Juneteenth celebration, the group decided to offer similar festivities in Killeen, but without charging anyone a cent.
"We said we want to give back and do the same thing without charging, so we do it all for free," Huggins said.
Coinciding with the new pageant, this year's theme is "Magnify the Beauty of Life's Journey."
The celebration, which continues tonight and ends Saturday afternoon, includes a parade, church service, a dramatic performance, a concert, booths, games and lots of good food.
Cooking will begin tonight to prepare 250 pounds of brisket, chicken, ham, hot dogs, red soda water and watermelon.
Huggins, also a former Killeen NAACP president, pointed out the importance of serving red soda water and watermelon – the primary foods offered at the first celebration on Galveston Island in 1865, he said.
Food will be ready to serve at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Killeen Community Center.
"One of the things we're looking forward to is a big crowd," Huggins said.
He said every year food is given away to area food banks and shelters because enough people don't show up to consume it during the celebration.
The parade tonight, which always features renowned Cowboy Billy Sneed, begins at 6 p.m. in downtown Killeen.
Besides food on Saturday, there will be a church service at 10 a.m. with guest speaker the Rev. Dr. George Harrison, pastor of First Baptist Church in Waco.
Huggins is careful to remind the public that Juneteenth is not a celebration for a select group of people.
"We're looking for a more diverse crowd," Huggins said. "We want people to come out. It's especially great for soldiers to come out and enjoy."
Fort Hood's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers is also hosting a Juneteenth program,
Juneteenth Comedy Explosion, on Saturday at Abrams Physical Fitness Center on Fort Hood.
The Juneteenth Comedy Explosion will be hosted by Joe Torry and will feature comedians Tyler Craig, K-Dubb and Hurricane Andrew.
Tickets to the Juneteenth Comedy Explosion are $20 per person. The doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. The show is open to the public and patrons may purchase tickets at Information, Ticketing and Registration and the B.O.S.S. office on Fort Hood or Renaissance Records in Killeen.
Contact Olga Peña at firstname.lastname@example.org or 501-7555.