EDINBURG - The 25th annual Juneteenth Observance took place Saturday June 17, the holiday, which commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas, was celebrated in two parts.
To open the festivities, a memorial service was held at Restlawn Cemetery. The cemetery, which didn’t have a name until 1993, was formerly known as the “cabbage patch” or “colored cemetery” as segregation had left that small corner of Edinburg’s Hillcrest Cemetery for the black families to bury their loved ones. At the ceremony, Lewis Christopher Callis and the other members of the black community who passed were honored.
Callis, who dedicated himself to the upkeep of the “cabbage patch,” was the impetus for the initial Juneteenth celebration. Having caught the attention of his neighbors Valerie and Steven Ramirez, they decided to do something for him and the black community amid heightened racial tensions sparked by the recent Los Angeles riots in 1992. Since then, the ceremony has grown, and historical markers for Callis, who passed in 2003, and others have been added.
This year Mayor Richard Garcia, along with community members from UTRGV, the Hidalgo County Historical Commission, the Kiwanis Club of Edinburg, and Callis’ children, spoke at the ceremony about race relations and coming together as a community. The memorial service ended with an acapella rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” led by Kim Callis.
The celebration then moved to the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library where refreshments and traditional Juneteenth foods were served. As people ate, Dee Lopez of the Hidalgo County Historical Commission and Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez spoke about history of Juneteenth and the significance and impact today. Sabrina Walker-Hernandez of the Boys & Girls Club announced the winners of their Juneteenth art competition, and children from Rising Star Baptist Church in Edinburg recited quotes about freedom and equality.
“Juneteenth has touched so many of our lives, whether we’re African-American or Hispanic or whatever race we might be,” Rodriguez said in his closing remarks to the audience. “We must make sure we do remember what some of us went through … Still we are fighting some issues ... but we are truly free to raise our children with the mind that we live here as a community and we should love as a community.”