MARSHALL – The music played in Independence Park, but people didn’t just sit and listen. While the Titambe West African Dance Ensemble played percussion, the ensemble members taught a crowd of Marshall area residents the moves associated with traditional Ghanaian drumming.
It took a few practice runs, but soon the audience was dancing an entire dance along with the group.
Younger members of the crowd said it was fun learning the steps.
“It was nice,” said Burning Cuillins.
The exchange on African and Afro-American culture was part of the June 16 celebrations in Marshall on Sunday. The holiday celebrates freedom for black Americans.
“We also celebrate our African heritage,” through music and dance, said Joyce Tofte, one of the organizers of Sunday’s events.
Juneteenth celebrates black freedom, Tofte said. Although the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States in 1863, many enslaved people in Confederate territory were not immediately freed.
“It took years for people to find out they were free” said Tofte. “This is a big deal.”
Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, the day Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and proclaimed that enslaved people were free in the state.
Tofte said the MORE Network — short for Marshall Overcoming Racism through Education — held a small June 16 celebration in Marshall last year. But since June 16 is now a federal holiday, group members decided to hold a bigger event this summer.
Area residents were invited to join in the food and fun at the park.
“It’s like the 4th of July” said Tofte. “We have grilled food, we have music, we have garden games.”
The heat caused some schedule changes for this year’s Juneteenth, but Tofte said there was still a good turnout. About 50 people came to the park in the first hour of the celebrations.
In addition to music and food, there were also events such as story time and a Red Velvet Cake Bakeoff. Red foods like red velvet cake and red soft drinks are traditionally associated with June 16, Tofte said.
“It’s meant to symbolize the blood we shed during slavery.” She said.
The celebrations brought people from different backgrounds together on Sunday. Ashley Dwire said her family went to the June events to learn about black history and the ongoing fight for justice.
“Even if you don’t celebrate June 16, acknowledging the importance of the day or taking the time to learn about Black history and what you can do to contribute to a more inclusive, to contribute to a more loving nation.” said Dwire.
Local residents said it would be good to have a June 16 celebration in Marshall.
“I think it’s a step forward” said Cinara Munford.
“I think it should happen every year” said Jasmine Orina. Orina thought that June 16th should be something every family celebrates, not just a holiday for a section of the community. “I think all families should be here.”
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