Resource Center celebrates Juneteenth

The Library Idol contestants Kia Taylor (from left) Chelsey DeGraff and Karlie Stoe accept their trophies during the third annual Juneteenth Celebration at The Library Partnership Resource Center on Saturday, June 16, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla. The event featured speakers, music, dancing and The Library Idol singing competition.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 10:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 10:19 p.m.

When President Lincoln gave the executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in 1863, word did not quickly reach many of the slaves in the Southern states.

In Texas, word did not arrive for more than two years until soldiers finally reached Galveston on June 19 — after the Civil War had ended.

Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. It’s recognized as at least a day of observance in 41 states, including Florida.

“You need to remember things in context of history,” said Phillis Filer, Alachua County Library District public services administrator. “That’s one of the things with Juneteenth. It gives us an opportunity to do that. And, also, it helps people to understand why we do things the way (that) we do.”

On Saturday, the Library Partnership Resource Center in northeast Gainesville held its third annual Juneteenth Celebration, which also celebrated Black Music Month — newly renamed by President Obama as African American Music Appreciation Month.

Sparse clouds in the sky and hefty breezes did little to fend off the heat for those who gathered to watch musicians and performers and to learn more about African-American heritage and culture. To fight the heat, the center provided free water to those in attendance.

The event started with Phillis Filer reading parts of the Emancipation Proclamation and speaking about African-American history and culture. Vivian Filer, the library district’s Board of Trustees chairwoman, followed and spoke primarily about African-American music and the effect it has had on American culture.

“One of my favorite things to do is to make sure that you know that African Americans weren’t slaves,” she said to the crowd. “They were free people brought into America and enslaved.”

Karen Johnson sang Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” and the celebration took off with a series of performances — from traditional African drumming and singing to jazz, rap and hip-hop.

Femi Kako and Africa 2000 performed traditional call and response music to beats made with congas and ashiko drums. Some in the audience swayed their hips and lifted their arms in dance to the traditional rhythms.

The Southland Spiritual Singers presented spirituals and gospel music, and the Lavern Porter Dancers, who ranged in age from 2 to 16 years old, performed.

In the Library Partnership Idol Contest, three young female vocalists — Karlie Stoe, 16, Chelsey DeGraff, 16, and Kia Taylor, 12 — competed for a chance to receive free studio time in order to make a demo.

The girls were finalists chosen from those who auditioned over the last two months for a spot in Saturday’s event, according to Carressa Hutchinson, manager of the center. Chelsey DeGraff won first place after she sang the Andy Greigs song “Rock Rolling Away,” with her father accompanying on guitar.

“It makes me feel like all of my hard work has paid off,” said Chelsey, who plans to distribute her demo, once it’s completed, over the Internet to those who might be interested.

Throughout the event, the center had a table set up to offer free books for children and adults. In addition, raffles were held offering 18 prizes, including DVDs, books, purses and other items.

Sean Taylor, whose daughter Kia won second place in the singing contest, attended the event for the first time along with his family. He said that it was informative, especially pertaining to African heritage and arts. He said his family will likely attend in the future. He also said the celebration was important for the youth.

“I’m not sure that they understand the significance of it now,” said Taylor. “But it’s something that they put into the treasure chest ... something to pull from as they get older.”

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