Juneteenth celebration at Marietta Square; group of people dance and celebrate in front of a pavilion on a sunny day
Audience members dance together to V.I.C.'s Wobble on June 18 at the Juneteenth Cultural Festival in Marietta, GA. (Alex Guevara/Fresh Take Georgia)

Hundreds of people withstood scattered storms and scorching heat over the weekend to celebrate Juneteenth in Marietta.

The Cobb County branch of the NAACP hosted the 19th annual Juneteenth celebration in the Marietta Square, with events spread throughout the weekend.

This year marks the first year that state employees like Algenon Wilson, a Recreation Program Coordinator for Cobb County PARKS, receive a paid holiday in honor of Juneteenth.

“I’m glad the county is recognizing Juneteenth as a whole, and other counties are starting to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday,” Wilson said. “I wish they had recognized it sooner, but I’m happy to see it move in this direction.”

Juneteenth was made a federal holiday in June of 2021 under the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. Georgia state employees did not receive a paid holiday in 2021 because of legislation that was updated in 2022 to allow a 13th paid holiday.

There was a surge in energy behind this year’s celebration with the new legislation in place, Deanne Bonner, former president of the Cobb County NAACP, said.

“Because Juneteenth now is a national, state and local holiday, we’ll put a little more energy into it than usual,” she said. “It’s phenomenal.”

The celebrations started on Friday with an Evening Under the Stars concert in Glover Park, featuring performances from R&B band Jazzy Blu. Despite the rain and heat advisory, hundreds of people reportedly attended the concert.

The music that played during the festivities enveloped the Marietta Square, and the smell of smoked meats and barbecue filled the air. Visitors sat in front of the stage and throughout the park to watch performances while others mingled among the booths in spite of the heat. 

“You come out of COVID, you get an opportunity to look people in the eye, so it was absolutely a dream fulfilled for us,” Bonner said. “Forty or fifty percent of the people that didn’t know what Juneteenth is, after yesterday, they know.”

The opportunity to educate people about the holiday continued into the Juneteenth Cultural Festival.

“I think it brings awareness to folks who are not informed of this, and it has an opportunity for people to ask questions about what Juneteenth is and what it stands for,” Mabeline Baldwin, a Marietta resident visiting the festival, said. “It’s not lost on us as the African Americans in the community that the broader community of Marietta recognizes that and is supporting this day.”

The Juneteenth Cultural Festival took place Saturday, and hundreds of visitors and community members gathered despite the heat. Local performers took to the stage to sing, dance and play instruments. The crowd was even asked to join in and dance as a community.

Government agencies, local businesses, political candidates and nonprofit groups alike filled the nearly 200 booths that lined the surrounding sidewalks.

Some groups at the festival aimed to educate guests, like the booth run by Pat Snipes, founder and curator of the Before Slavery Museum which is set to open soon in Cobb County. 

“I think it’s very encouraging that people are accepting of the African American culture, and encouraging people to learn more about the culture,” said Snipes. “One way to do that is to have events where people set aside time to share that culture.”

The cultural festival also provides an opportunity to inform people about Juneteenth.

It is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery and coincides with the day the news of the war and slavery ending reached Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, according to the Cobb NAACP website. 

Plans for the county’s 2023 Juneteenth celebration are already well underway.

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