Juneteenth fills downtown with free spirits, spirituals

Jun. 15, 2013 @ 04:45 PM

Four young women walked hand-in-hand down Parrish Street on Saturday afternoon, swinging long, traditional skirts as they sang Negro spirituals.

During any normal school day, they were actresses with the Hillside High School drama department. But during Juneteenth, in the heart of downtown, they connected to the stories of ancestors long past.

The ninth annual Juneteenth celebrated the significance of June 19, the day when word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached North Carolina in 1865, as well as highlighted the importance of freedom for all.

“We’re freed slaves, and we’re just happy to show that we’re free,” said 16-year-old Hillside High student Lyndsey Hannah.

Walking down the brick sidewalk, the four students sang in unison, “Wade in the water, wade in the water, children.”

Travin Duncan, a 14-year-old Hillside High student, ran across the street in makeshift period clothing, confronting passersby.

“I am a freed man!” he exclaimed. “I am not a slave. I no longer work under you.”

He said the act is about getting people to think about the history of black America.

“We’re trying to teach people to keep the spirits alive of our ancestors,” Duncan said.

Classic fair foods were sold, including cotton candy and popcorn. There were bounce houses and face paint stations. But over the loud speakers blasted gospel music, and some vendors sold African art and clothing. A unity march started the celebration, when a group walked from the Masonic Lodge on East Main Street to the CCB Plaza, where the festival was held.

Juneteenth Director Phyllis Coley said the march stands for the eradication of modern-day bondage.

She said she meets people over the years who have never seen a Juneteenth or have participated in another state’s celebration.

“Our mission is to make people aware of our culture,” Coley said. “…It’s so significant to me because Durham is my hometown.”

Lloyd and Carolyn Brewer sat near the stage, listening to the gospel music. Carolyn moved her body to the beat, waving her arms draped in colorful, transparent fabric. She wore blue lipstick and feathers hung from her hair.

Lloyd wore a shirt of colorful, green African patterns. He said he was born and raised in Durham, and he and his wife have visited Juneteenth every year.

“I hope they carry away their dignity, their pride and part of their history,” Lloyd said of new attendees. “Have a free spirit and enjoy people, no matter what race. You know we all got to live together.”