The first Juneteenth celebration came shortly after Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, to inform the people there that the Civil War was over and slavery had been abolished.
That day was June 19, 1865. Two and a half years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had enacted the Emancipation Proclamation.
The first Juneteenth celebration in the Roswell area was in Blackdom, just south of Roswell sometime in the early 1900s. Blackdom was settled in 1901 by Francis Boyer, a Wagoner and a fugitive from KKK persecution.
Alice Wagoner and her brother, Steve, both of Roswell, have ancestors that go back to Blackdom and later to the area of Roswell, informally known as the Carver area. The George Washington Carver Park, at the corner of South Virginia Avenue and East Hendricks Street, is across the street, just west of the former Carver high school.
“My ancestors pioneered Blackdom,” Steve said. “My great-great grandfather was the school teacher there.”
Steve remembers Juneteenth celebrations in Roswell from his earliest years.
“Juneteenth has been going on in Roswell for years,” Steve said. “Different organizations have taken it up over the years. I’ve been in Roswell since 1955. I was born here. We’ve always had a Juneteenth celebration. It used to be at the George Washington Carver Park.”
Alice organized this year’s celebration.
“I’m grateful for those who came and endured the heat,” Alice said. “I hope they get the message about what the day is.”
“I was going through history books looking for all the things that were accomplished by slaves and free people,” Alice said. “Black people were forbidden to marry and many times they were beaten if they tried to worship. That led me to ask, ‘What are you doing with your freedom?’”
Steve expressed one of the foundational reasons to celebrate Juneteenth, whether there are a few people or hundreds there.
“We want our children to learn of their heritage,” he said, “so that they never let it happen again. There are still people in the world who would try to enslave others. I will not call our ancestors slaves, they were forced laborers; and I will not call any man master, they were human traffickers.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.