PITTSBORO — Hundreds of Chatham residents gathered at the Chatham County Agricultural and Industrial Fair Association this weekend to celebrate Juneteenth with events provided by two Chatham-based organizations.
Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, and marks the day — June 19, 1865 — when slaves in Galveston, Texas, were informed about the Emancipation Proclamation, signed nearly two and a half years before. Texas designated Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980, but it wasn’t made a federal holiday until last year.
In Pittsboro, Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE) and Wealth through Entrepreneurship for Black Businesses (WEBB Squared) held their celebrations on June 18 and 19, respectively, with each event having a unique focus. CORE’s event focused on celebrating Black culture and its history, while WEBB Squared’s event highlighted and commemorated Black entrepreneurs and their contributions to the community.
On Saturday, CORE’s celebration featured a Black business expo, an exhibit filled with artifacts from Chatham County’s Black history, a drumline and step team, several speakers and more.
CORE Executive Director Karinda Roebuck helped to organize the 5th annual celebration. She said Juneteenth provides a perfect opportunity for the community to come together and commemorate what emancipation achieved.
“Over time in generations, it’s an opportunity for us to gather together in celebration of Black culture, resilience and Black excellence,” Roebuck said. “It’s about a whole culture that’s kind of emerged, and it deserves to be celebrated.”
One of the speakers, North Carolina poet and UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Dasan Ahanu, recited his own works to an audience in the middle of the weekend festivities.
“I think this commemoration is important,” Ahanu said. “Because as long as we continue to think about those who are underserved, who are oppressed, we’re challenged and dealing with struggle, we will continue to make our communities better. We never want to have another situation where someone is the last to know the times of change.”
After his remarks, Ahanu told the News + Record he wanted to make sure he shared the story behind Juneteenth.
“It’s a celebration of courage and resilience,” he said. “It’s a marker of time that says if you continue to hold on, change is going to come, and that we’re going we can make it through whatever circumstances the situation has that we’re dealing with.”
Ahanu said he was compelled to share his work and talents at Chatham’s celebration because it’s important for members of the community — regardless of race — to embrace Juneteenth and celebrate it together.
“We can’t allow for anyone to be prioritized or privileged any more than anyone else,” Ahanu said. “We all deserve to be able to have a chance to be able to carve the life that we want, and if so the community then becomes stronger because we can all contribute back in a way that helps to build the whole community for everyone.”
There were some familiar faces from across Chatham celebrating Juneteenth over the weekend. Siler City Dist. 2 commissioner Norma Boone helped to organize CORE’s Saturday event. She was in attendance — wearing her CORE Juneteenth t-shirt — sharing the importance of bringing awareness to different aspects of our shared history.
“It is important to show people and for them to learn what everyone has as a part of their background,” Boone said. “We want to make sure people are open and really wanting to learn.”
Boone said in times where it seems people are more divided than ever, it’s crucial to keep educating and uniting people through community events — such as those celebrating Juneteenth.
“I think a lot of times, people don’t want to see or understand others,” she said. “This is one of those things … about bringing people together and being able to be different, but we can also be together.”
Elijah Roebuck, Karinda Roebuck’s son and a student at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, was helping his mother set up and work during Saturday’s event. He said as a mixed-race student, it is important to recognize where he came from, and embrace his mixed cultural background.
“For me, it means a lot that we were able to get this event together and bring the crew together, but also personally, it displays tenacity, it displays perseverance that we, as Black people, have had to have throughout history,” he said. “Just being able to celebrate … the evolution of Black people in America and how far we’ve come and what we’ve had to overcome, even if it is just waiting for that news to reach us, it is something that we have had to struggle and fight through … something that I think is very much worth the celebration.”
He said he felt an overwhelming sense of pride, joy and unity in his community on Saturday. For him, he hopes the spirit of that day continues beyond Juneteenth into the rest of the year.
“To see so many people, it is unity, it feels whole and almost tranquil in a sense because we were able to bring everyone together,” he said. “We’re able to all be here and be happy with each other … I think it means this great sense of unity and just this tranquility — it’s a very comfortable environment to me.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.