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Juneteenth holiday celebrated locally

Events held in Weirton, Steubenville

Andrew Grimm JUNETEENTH — Area residents gathered at the Weirton Event Center Saturday for the community’s first observance of Juneteenth.

WEIRTON — As Juneteenth, the nation’s newest federal holiday, was recognized across the country Saturday, the Ohio Valley was no exception. The day commemorating the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching slaves in Galveston, Texas in June of 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the measure and a little more than two months following the end of the Civil War, became a federal holiday on Thursday when a bill declaring it as such that passed both chambers of Congress earlier in the week was signed by President Joe Biden.

Celebrations of African-American history and culture have been held to commemorate the occasion, starting in Texas in 1866.

In Weirton, an inaugural Juneteenth celebration was held at the Weirton Event Center located on East Street, with vendors set up inside the big tent and performances throughout the day on the stage.

Event organizer Jonathan Curenton was thrilled with the turnout.

“It’s very exciting to see,” Curenton said. “I’m very excited by the people that are here and the people that are going to continue to come out throughout the day.”

He said several months went into planning the event, and discussions for next year are already underway.

“Me and my uncle (William “Ox” Curenton) were just talking about it (Juneteenth being a national holiday and on a Sunday next year). The planning for next year has already started,” he said, also giving credit to a friend for encouraging to think big with the celebration. “We started planning in March or April, a lot went into this.”

His niece, Micaiah Lloyd, offered remarks about the history of Juneteenth and the current need for change, while acts to take the stage included Alex Kaine, Elise Rainbow, Melanye Wares, Linda Ross Brown, Re-konception!, James Montgomery, the Ambassadors Mime Team, Elijah Fletcher, Bobbyjon and Pamela Bauman, CBE 180s Babies with Renee Thompson and Teresa Kropke.

Across the river in Steubenville, the Second Baptist Church held its fourth celebration in five years — COVID-19 forced last year’s event to be canceled — to commemorate the occasion.

“Just to see everybody that came out, everybody that is supporting this, even seeing that God is holding off the rain for us, it’s exciting,” Tamala Hunt, Juneteenth committee chair, said. “It was a lot of work, a lot of man hours, a lot of long days and late nights and phone calls to get this pulled off.

“It was a lot of work, but it is worth it to see everyone come out.”

Saturday was Hunt’s first celebration as chair after last year’s cancellation.

Hunt hopes that the action taken by Congress last week to make Juneteenth a federal holiday will continue to grow the celebrations.

“My vision is even bigger, we’re already planning for 2022,” Hunt said. “Now that Juneteenth is a national holiday, it’s very exciting. A lot of people didn’t even know what Juneteenth was. For it to have gained the momentum that it has, with everybody wanting to know more about it and celebrate, it’s exciting.

“Now that it is a holiday, everybody is going to be celebrating. I’m at a loss for words with excitement because it means so much, it really does.”

There were approximately 30 vendors set up along South Eighth Street behind the church, as well as a stage where speakers such as Steubenville Mayor Jerry Barilla, interim Wintersville Mayor Robert Martin, Steubenville First Ward Councilwoman Asantewa Anyabwile and the Rev. Marvin Barner Jr, offered remarks.

The event also included musical performances from the church’s praise team and Trinity Health System marketing director Laurie Labishak.

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