Buffalo's Juneteenth fest, at its core a remembrance of history - The Buffalo News

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Buffalo's Juneteenth fest, at its core a remembrance of history

Buffalo is No. 1 when it comes to Juneteenth festivals in New York. In the country, it comes in as the third-largest celebration.

People travel from hubs of black culture, like Atlanta, to attend the festivities, said Paula Prince, member of the Xi Epsilon Omega chapter of the AKA sorority. One man told her that Atlanta's celebration doesn't come close to that of Buffalo.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The common beginning mark is June 19, 1865 – the day Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army rode into Galveston, Texas, with news of the end of the war and the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Buffalo celebration being held Saturday and Sunday in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The two-day celebration kicks off with church services around 9 a.m. and proceeds with back-to-back events through 8 p.m.

In recent years, festivalgoer Sharon Doyle has noticed more importance on placed on security.

“You can feel the police presence,” Doyle said.

[GALLERY: Juneteeth Festival at MLK Park]

The celebration can be navigated like a bull’s eye. In the center is the splash pad where children are gathered. Vendors and information booths are on its perimeter and the parade happens along the outermost area through Fillmore Avenue.

While there’s plenty to see and buy, history and community support remains at the core of Buffalo’s Juneteenth.

“This is a day that we patronize and support one another,” said Diane Shakii, a local vendor. “It never dawned on me before, but this is evidence of us supporting black-owned businesses.”

This is Shakii's first year selling at the festival, but she has attended it for more than a decade. Seeing different cultures and traditions come together year after year is what makes the celebration so special, she said.

The blend of cultures is evident in the air, fragrant with burning incense and barbecue smoke mingling together, a sensory representation of African and African-American cultures. On Sunday, the festival will host an “edutainment” stage with spoken word performances and local artists from 1 to 5 p.m. An African drum and dance class will be held from 2 to 4 p.m.

Steve Hoff of Buffalo said culture is one of the main reasons, apart from the motorcycle show, that he visits for both days every year. He wants his son to experience and learn about their heritage.

The inside of the festival's heritage tent is lined with 19 trifold boards covered in pictures and text detailing the history of slavery and pan-Africanism dating back to centuries.

Donald Paulk, working in the Jesse Clipper American Legion Post No. 430 booth, said he wants to bring to light how African-Americans have shaped the history of the United States. He believed their role is often forgotten or left out of the historical narrative.

“We need to celebrate our history,” Paulk said. “The festival is not just something that you come out for the trinkets you can buy. It’s about the mental, spiritual and educational aspect.”

Paulk’s post commander, Paulette Woods, added a sentiment shared by many of her generation: “Young folk don’t know their history.” But, she said, this is a step toward learning.

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