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Fayetteville holds inaugural Juneteenth Jubilee celebration

Festivities continue Sunday with A Praise Party in the Park


Lajune Ray had one particular aspect of the Juneteenth Jubilee celebration in mind when she left home on Saturday for Festival Park.

“I love Reggie Codrington,” she said from a folding chair on the lawn at Festival Park.

Codrington is a jazz artist from Fayetteville who plays the saxophone.

Before opening the lineup of musical entertainment Saturday afternoon, Codrington could be seen warming up on stage as people started to flow into Festival Park, which is serving as the site for the city’s first-sponsored Juneteenth Jubilee.

The event is a first for the Cool Spring Downtown District and the city-sponsored tie-in to the federal holiday that commemorates the abolishment of slavery in the United States.

The local celebration was put together in a matter of months by downtown district staff members after the Fayetteville City Council requested that they come up with ideas for what the city might do to celebrate the occasion.

In early March, the council approved $141,000 for the event. In January, the City Council voted to make Juneteenth a city holiday.

“Twenty-three years ago, I played a Juneteenth event in Fayetteville. Twenty-three years later, I'm doing the big one,’’ Codrington said with a smile. “I'm playing on the big stage." 

"I try to make a lot of his outings,” the 53-year-old Ray said as band members plugged in and warmed up.

As for the city’s first official Juneteenth event, she said, “I think it’s wonderful they’re celebrating it.

“It’s American history. And to be able to celebrate something about Black people, it's very important for Black people.

“The Black population persevered,” Ray added. “They’re smart. They’re intelligent. They were the inventors. We were suppressed for all our greatness.”

She spoke of the slaves in Texas, whom she said were the last ones to get the news that they had been freed. 

“They were just happy and walked off the plantations and had their freedom,” she said. 

The bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday first gained its footing during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Nina Cardwell, who is 61, drove from Southern Pines to attend Fayetteville’s event. Southern Pines in nearby Moore County also has a Juneteenth event scheduled for Sunday.

She, too, had come for the music.

Cardwell said to her, Juneteenth means: “Unity. A celebration of Black contributions. Cooperation with people in the community.”

 And while she said the heat and humidity were getting to her “just a little bit,” she expected to hang around for the music.

 Other scheduled performers Saturday were Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba, a dance band that combines West African traditional, funk, rock, blues and jazz into their jambalaya sound; Fayetteville’s own funk-based Fatback Band, led by resident Bill Curtis; Americana artist Amethyst Kiah; and hip-hop performer Morray, a Fayetteville native.

Bianca Shoneman, president and CEO of the Cool Spring Downtown District, estimated Saturday's attendance at 7,000.

 The celebration continues Sunday with a Praise Party in the Park from noon to 6 p.m. that will feature Grammy Award-winning gospel singer and minister Donnie McClurkin. It is the final event for the city’s celebration.

 Also on Sunday, N.C. Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green will be the keynote speaker for the Heritage Brunch from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Studio 215, 215 Williams St. She is the first African American and third woman state poet laureate

 Food trucks, vendors part of festivities

Toward the back of Festival Park, rows of vendors and mobile food trucks served the public everything from barbecue and ribs to street cuisine and cakes. An announcer onstage said the event had drawn 70-plus Black small businesses and vendors.

Besides the array of food, vendors were selling clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts, even comic books. The Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, Gilbert Theater, Methodist University and Fayetteville Technical Community College also had tents on-site looking to draw interest.

"I think it's awesome," said Erica Baldwin, whose Food 4 the Soul mobile food truck featured turkey wings, turkey barbecue, whiting fish, red snapper, gizzards and a "Hit a Home Run Burger."

Xavier McLean, 31, was helping his father, Daryl McLean, man a tent where the smoke and sizzle of fire wafted through the air from fish they were frying. They also served burgers, pulled pork barbecue, fries, lemonade and sweet tea. And, of course, what appeared to be the very popular fish basket.

Their business can typically be seen at other city events, such as the Dogwood Festival and the inaugural New Year’s Eve celebration at Festival Park.

“This particular event is the first time they’re having this event. It’s something new. Something different,” Xavier McLean said.

He said it was great that the city decided to hold the celebration, which means so much to African Americans.

“I always wanted to go to a Juneteenth celebration,” McLean said. “To me, personally, it’s a celebration of our life and our freedom. Just a cultural thing. It established our freedom.”

Camille Hill and her 4-year-old son Channing were having a lunch of fried fish and French fries. Thirteen-year-old family friend Brianna Rideout was with them as they sat on the lawn. They are from Fayetteville.

“It’s important for him to see Black success," Hill said of her son. "It's important for me to pass down the tradition for the next generation. Black businesses. Black vendors. This is a positive event. You can bring your family. I think it’s a different perspective that a lot of people in Fayetteville don’t see.”

With that, she said they were going to listen to some of the music from the stage before doing something that most people in attendance would envy on a day with temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s.

“We’re going to stay a little bit and then,” Hill said, “we’re going to get in the pool.”

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, Juneteenth Jubilee, Cool Spring Downtown District, Festival Park