By Ide Lehner
Killeen Daily Herald
It's time to celebrate history.
The Killeen Branch NAACP annual Juneteenth Celebration will be Thursday through Saturday.
The branch, VFW 9191, Prince Hall Masonic Family of Killeen and Copperas Cove, and a host of organizations and groups throughout the community have come together to plan the annual event.
"Last year's Juneteenth celebration was a success," said Gladys Peterson, Killeen Miss Juneteenth coordinator.
Gen. Gordon Grange started the celebration in Galveston in 1865 and it became an official state holiday Jan. 1, 1980. Now the event is celebrated all across the United States.
Killeen's Juneteenth celebration started 20 years ago.
"Killeen's celebration commemorating the official end of slavery in Texas started with the vision of Ora Washington in June 1989. She along with Roosevelt Huggins visited another city that celebrated Juneteenth and decided to offer our growing community the same festivities, but without a charge," Peterson said.
This year's Juneteenth theme is "Unity: A Change That Has Brought Us Together."
"This celebration is a great way to educate younger generations about the commemoration ending slavery," Peterson said.
Peterson got involved in the program after working 18 years as the coordinator for the state pageant of Prince Hall Shriners. She enjoyed working with the young ladies and hoped she could help them promote their self-esteem and instill a desire to reach personal goals with charm and poise.
"After reading the history of this celebration, it became important to me and gave me the desire to serve in the community," Peterson said.
Last year the first Miss Juneteenth, Cierra Randall, was crowned. This year's pageant theme is "Let us not Forget: Knowledge is Power."
Dayna Richardson of Killeen is one of the five contestants participating in this year's pageant.
"Juneteenth was a subject rarely mentioned to me in school and the only way I found out about it was because my church educated me about the Juneteenth celebration," Richardson said.
Richardson practices two days a week for two hours and said she is exited about being a participant.
"I will be representing my family, church, community and my ethnicity," she said. Her parents are very supportive and told her that this event was meaningful and important for their culture.
About 750 people attend Juneteenth in Killeen each year. The entire Killeen, Fort Hood, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights and Nolanville community is encouraged to attend the celebration.
"Be a part of this family, fun-filled event in celebration of Juneteenth," Peterson said.
Major features of Juneteenth each year include the parade and picnic.
The Juneteenth picnic will be held after the parade at the Melba Jo Pioneer Park, where it started 20 years ago.
And keeping with tradition, all events and activities will be free.