A Juneteenth Day celebration at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro on June 16 drew more than 1,500 enthusiasts and featured something for everybody–face painting for children, miniature golf for families, R&B and blues concerts for grown ups and food, food and more food.
But even as Prince George’s residents celebrated, Maryland remained one of only nine of the 50 states in the nation to not officially observe Juneteenth, said the Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Measures in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate failed to pass during the last legislative session, officials in Annapolis said.
In 1997, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day, Myers said. Other resolutions have followed. The District recognized the day through a special resolution by the D.C. Council in 2003. The Virginia state legislature passed a measure recognizing Juneteenth in 2007.
“Maryland is a holdout,” said Myers. “We did get a proclamation from Gov. Martin O’Malley. That’s alright, but it’s not the state recognition that we are looking for.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) issued a statement saying Juneteenth “celebrates African American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for other cultures.”
President Obama said Juneteenth was particularly significant this year. “With the recent ground breaking of the first Smithsonian Museum dedicated to African American History and Culture, and the dedication of a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall, this Juneteenth offers another opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation,” he said in a statement. “And it’s also a chance to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of guaranteeing liberty and equal rights for all Americans.”
Celebrations big and small were held throughout the nation. In Prince George’s, the event took over the entire Watkins Regional Park, including the historic carousel, the miniature golf course and the playground, where children frolicked under a cloudless sky. Dozens of people learned about researching their ancestry at the Watkins Nature Center, where the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society, Inc., had set up camp. The Uhuru Quilters Guild, which has exhibited at the Corcoran Museum of Art in the District, displayed beautiful designs.
The five-hour event was the fifth annual official celebration in Prince George’s, officials said.
Another popular spot was the bandstand area, where national acts including the R&B group, the Blackbyrds, and blues great Diuanna Greenleaf drew thunderous applause from the audience.
“Yeah!” yelled Robert Collins, 37, of Greenbelt as the Blackbyrds performed their popular song “Walking in Rhythm.” He sang along with the performers.
“We always have a good time out here,” said Collins, a barber. “My kids have a good time. My wife and her mother are over there playing with them. We had barbeque. The kids had ice cream. I get to listen to music. It’s a good day.”
Darlene Watkins, acting chief of the arts and cultural heritage division of the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation, which presents the event, called the celebration “an important cultural event” that brings “children, families and couples” in a positive, historically significant commemoration.
“That’s the best part of it,” she said. “There’s something for all ages.”