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San Antonians Brave High Temperatures To Celebrate And Honor Juneteenth

Jack Morgan/Texas Public Radio
The Fiesta Queen of Soul, Rebekkah Wynn, at San Antonio's 2021 Juneteenth Celebration.

The new federal holiday Juneteenth is being enjoyed all across the country.

The holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, which occurred two and a half years earlier.

In San Antonio, the official Juneteenth event coincided with the city's Fiesta. It was held in Comanche Park on Friday and Saturday and it included live blues from Ruben V and Kenny Wayne, a health fair, a domino tournament, and lots of good food.

Related | 'Know The History': A Texas Chef's Thoughts On Food And Juneteenth

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Jack Morgan/Texas Public Radio
San Antonio's 2021 Juneteenth Commissioner Byron E. Miller.

The gathering was Juneteenth Commissioner Byron E. Miller’s responsibility, and he moved quickly from booth to booth, and vendor to vendor, to check that everything was running smoothly. He took a moment to reflect on his earliest Juneteenths.

"Growing up, our folks always acknowledge the 19th of June and there would be some celebration. Now that celebration would be maybe a backyard barbecue picnic, a gathering of a few folks,” Miller said.

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The Fish Fry at San Antonio's 2021 Juneteenth Celebration.

This year, hundreds of San Antonians braved mid-90s temperatures, standing in line for the Juneteenth fish-fry. 81 year-old Nettie Hinton remembers the era when a national holiday like this was beyond conception.

“I grew up with Jim Crow segregation. I drank out of the colored water fountain. I sat at the back of the bus. I could not go in the front door of the Majestic. I couldn't try on clothes in the department stores in San Antonio,” Hinton remembered.

Related | Juneteenth Celebrations In San Antonio Include Parties, Live Music And A Look At The City's Own History

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Jack Morgan/Texas Public Radio
Nettie Hinton at San Antonio's Juneteenth celebration.

But she's optimistic, and thinks recent changes are part of a nearly untold American story, one that may soon be told.

“The history needs to be told and it needs to be told truthfully. It should not be something that is favoring one side of an issue or the other side of an issue. It just needs to lay it out and say, ‘this is what happened. This is why it happened.’”

Twenty-something Valentine Merchant agrees.

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Jack Morgan/Texas Public Radio
Valerie Merchant at the San Antonio's 2021 Juneteenth celebration.

“It's devastating, knowing our tragic American history that we were all we were not considered as human beings,” Merchant said. “So to see 1865 to now, we've come a long way, and we still have a long way to go.”

78 year-old Riley Carruthers has celebrated Juneteenth as long as he can remember, and for good reason.

“We were descendants of slaves in the community in which my father lived [which] was one of those initial black settlements in Texas that sprung up after slavery,” he said.

Laughter came freely and often to Carruthers, but when asked about critical race theory, he got serious.

“We can't teach American history by just recognizing that the only thing of any consequence was done by white folks. If white folks when they arrived here did not have the help of Native Americans, they would have starved to death,” he said. “If they did not have the help of slaves, they would never have had the economic situation that they have.”

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Jack Morgan/Texas Public Radio
Riley Carruthers at San Antonio's 2021 Juneteenth celebration at Comanche Park.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii