On Saturday, individuals and their families gathered down the steps in Falls Park to celebrate June 16, also known as Freedom Day.
June 16 commemorates the day slaves in Galveston, Texas learned slavery was outlawed, two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Since then, the holiday has been a time to gather with family and community, honor the present, and reflect on shared history and tradition, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
For Rueben Hays, the Juneteenth GVL Megafest was a dream come true and the first of its kind in the city of Greenville.
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Hays is Executive Director of the Upstate SC Juneteenth Alliance and has been planning this opening ceremony since 2018.
“This is God’s vision. He put it on my heart to roll with,” Hays explained.
He said that this event is not a protest but a celebration of freedom.
“Freedom is definitely something worth celebrating, especially after our community has fought so hard and for so long for it. Celebrate it now, celebrate it boldly, celebrate diversity with unity in mind.”
The festival featured various vendors selling everything from clothing, natural products, art and food.
Along with the vendors, the festival had live performances by several dance groups, bands and gospel artists on the amphitheater stage.
Mauldin resident Sonya Geter came to the festival with her family. Their 11-year-old daughter Tamera is a member of T Motion Dance Studio, one of the festival’s performance groups.
Although Tamera did not perform, Sonya felt it was important not only to support the group but also to celebrate it, as her daughter gets to witness the different forms of representation within the black community.
“I think it’s very important when she goes to middle school or high school, she has to be able to be herself,” Sonya said.
“So she needs to know that it’s okay to wear locs or her natural hair to just be herself and not be pigeonholed based on how other people feel.”
For Raysean Wintz, he didn’t know what Juneteenth was when he was younger, so he was excited about bringing kids to the party.
“We didn’t realize that growing up, we didn’t know anything about Juneteenth until later as we got older. It’s just amazing that they’re now learning about it and learning about our culture and our history,” Wintz said.
With a calm demeanor, Hays expressed his gratitude for attending the event in its first year and foreshadowed what was to come.
“I think that’s a good start, but the vision is much bigger and you have to stick with it.”
Alexis Hamilton is a native of Beaufort, SC and covers upstate higher education. You can reach her at 727-514-5734 or [email protected]