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A celebration of heritage Thousands come to Martin Luther King Park for Juneteenth Festival

Ayodele Ojumu smiled wide as she watched her son run around Martin Luther King Park on Saturday during the 35th annual Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo.

But 6-year-old Naturale may not have known why he was there.

More than 140 years have gone by since President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became official and, after all this time, Ojumu is one of many in Western New York to still celebrate its meaning. Now, she said she wants to share her heritage with Naturale.

"It's kind of commemorative and it feels good," Ojumu said, standing among the crowds Saturday. "I want to teach him all these things I know about it and let him create his own legacy of what it means to him."

Thousands of people showed for the event, which began with a parade starting at the corner of Genesee and Moselle streets. Booth offerings varied from jewelry to clothes and accessories, while others were hosted by organizations like Planned Parenthood or the U.S. Army.

Most people gravitated to the food vendors -- standing in single-file lines -- or to the entertainment stages, where music played and some danced.

Ojumu, a Buffalo native who now lives in Rochester, and her son came with her parents and perused the booths throughout the park. She said the vendors, many of whom come from New York City, are her favorite part.

She said she has brought her son from Rochester since he was an infant -- the years he spent most of the festival being pushed about in a stroller. Ochun Ojumu, Ayodele's father, has been coming to the Juneteenth celebration since it began.

Buffalo's celebration of African-American heritage is the third largest in the country and he said it is nice to see more and more people have come over the years. Though it might be more of a social gathering for younger generations, he said, it hasn't stopped him from remembering Juneteenth's history.

"I just like celebrating things people have done in the past -- the sacrifices," said Ochun Ojumu.

June 19, 1865, marked the date when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to notify its people that slaves were freed and the Civil War had ended. From that time, Juneteenth was born.

Sandra Williams Bush and other volunteers worked the festival's heritage tent Saturday to spread word not only honoring the end of slavery in the U.S., but of a few of the "hidden gems" or local organizations that also celebrate African-American heritage.

Bush, branch manager at the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, said most people don't realize groups like the Buffalo Genealogical Society of African Diaspora exist until they come to her tent.

"It's not just a festival," she said of Juneteenth. "It's a cultural event."

Andy Finley Jr. agreed, as he was among the volunteers at the heritage tent. He is a member of the Genealogical Society.

"I appreciate others the couple days a year the African-American community comes together," he said. "It's a day without violence."

Little differs from year to year at Juneteenth, Bush said, but it still serves as a homecoming for most of its attendees.

Both Ochun and Ayodele Ojumu said they ran into people they knew. Ochun periodically shook hands with those he recognized while playing with his grandson.

"A lot of people plan their vacations around this reunion," Bush said. "As you walk around, you'll see people go, 'Hey, how's it going?' and hug."

e-mail: jsmith@buffnews.com