By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

When President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in rebel states in 1863, Texas didn't get the message.

That's how Killeen Branch NAACP President TaNeika Driver described the origins of Juneteenth, the annual commemoration of the effective emancipation of Texas slaves at the end of the Civil War.

Despite Lincoln's famous 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, Driver said Wednesday, "Texas did not get the message until 1865. That is a very significant part of our history, and it needs to be brought to the forefront."

For the last 22 years, the Killeen Branch NAACP and other affiliated community groups have done their part to bring awareness to Juneteenth, through parades and other community events.

This year's celebration began Thursday night, with a late-night crowning of a Juneteenth queen. The festivities continue tonight, during a parade starting at Killeen City Hall, followed by a concert by Temple R&B act Toni Ringgold and the Equinox band at the Killeen Community Center. A prayer service and community picnic close the celebration on Saturday at the community center.

This year's Juneteenth theme is "Our World Living the Spirit of Freedom."

Because so many people in Killeen have been brought here from other states due to the military, said Driver, an Illinois native, Killeen's annual celebration is an opportunity for non-Texans to learn about Juneteenth while celebrating freedom in its broadest sense.

People of all ages and races are welcome to participate in this weekend's festivities, including tonight's parade. That's true of all the NAACP's events, Driver said, noting the organization was founded by whites and blacks in 1909.

The official anniversary of Juneteenth is Sunday, the day in 1865 when Union forces, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston at the end of the Civil War. Although slaves in other rebel states had been freed more than two years earlier, there weren't enough Union troops to enforce Lincoln's order until the end of the war.

Juneteenth celebration memories are deeply rooted in many Texas natives, including Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock. Growing up in East Texas, he said Wednesday, he remembers celebrating Juneteenth even more vividly than July 4, with traditional red soda water and watermelon.

"We worked," he said of July 4, "but we did not work the 19th of June."

As an adult, Hancock's Army career took him to parts of the country where no one had ever heard of Juneteenth, to his surprise, he said.

He was happy to pick up the celebration upon eventually moving back to Texas, he said, and commemorating Juneteenth takes on a special meaning in Killeen due to its extreme diversity.

Killeen's Juneteenth celebration has gotten bigger and better every year, said event chairman Roosevelt Huggins. The retired noncommissioned officer and Louisiana native has been involved in every Juneteenth celebration since 1989, when longtime Killeen cowboy Billy Sneed initiated a parade with his horses.

The parade is now called the Billy Sneed parade, Huggins said, and will feature Sneed and his horses again this year.

About 800 people attended last year's celebration, but Huggins said he's aiming for 1,500 this year.

There's a lot to celebrate in Killeen, he said.

But for all that Juneteenth means, Driver said she can't help but look forward to the food during Saturday's picnic, including brisket, hot dogs, potato salad and more.

If you go

The Killeen Branch NAACP's 22nd annual Juneteenth celebration kicks off tonight with a parade in downtown Killeen.

The Cowboy Billy Sneed Parade starts at 6 p.m. Lineup begins at City Hall, 101 N. College Street, at 5 p.m.

Hot Summer Nights at the Killeen Community Center is from 6 to 10 tonight. Temple's Toni Ringgold & the Equinox R&B band performs outside the center amphitheater, 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd.

A Juneteenth worship service is from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Killeen Community Center. Bishop Darryl Shaw of Rivers of Living Waters Church is the speaker.

A picnic will follow at 12:45 p.m., with food, games, pony rides and entertainment. The celebration ends at 3 p.m.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, call (254) 291-0618 or (254) 634-3047.

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