Chapter President Deane Bonner, along with event co-chairs Tanya LaFleur and Jeriene Grimes, has grown this year’s festival into a three-day event, complete with a famous headliner for the finale.
Juneteenth, usually celebrated June 19, marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Texas and was the catalyst for the liberation of Texan slaves, according to Juneteenth.com. With General Robert E. Lee’s surrender two months earlier, incoming Union forces were finally able to enforce what had been written into law in the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the website says.
Cobb County will honor the occasion with a “weekend extravaganza,” set to take place in Glover Park at the Marietta Square on June 13, 14 and 15.
Cobb’s NAACP chapter is the fourth largest of the 103 chapters serving Georgia. For 11 years, it has hosted a cultural festival in the area in honor of Juneteenth.
The organization added an outdoor live music feature five years ago titled “Evening Under the Stars,” which takes place on the Friday night before the festival proper. Vendors will occupy more than 100 booths during Saturday’s all-day celebration.
Mattie Smalls, the chapter’s volunteer coordinator, said Friday evening’s event has been successful in past years.
“People are able to come and bring picnic baskets and tables,” she said.
Bonner said she expects 3,000 guests to attend Friday night’s festivities, and between 40,000 to 50,000 at Saturday’s cultural festival. She said she could not estimate attendance for Sunday’s event, called Gospelfest, because the show is new to this year’s event.
Le’Andria Johnson, the season 3 winner of BET’s competition show “Sunday Best,” will perform at Gospelfest.
“When people heard she was performing, they wondered how we got her,” Bonner said of the singer, who won a Grammy in 2012.
Someone involved with Cobb’s NAACP chapter knew Johnson and invited her to sing, according to Bonner.
Bonner said the event will be staffed largely by community volunteers. She said part of Smalls’ job is to find volunteers that can serve as public representatives for the NAACP.
“We want to get volunteers that epitomize what we do,” Bonner explained.
Bonner said many of her volunteers come from CobbWorks, a local nonprofit employment agency.
John Helton, the CEO of CobbWorks, said his organization brings about 200 youths onto the payroll each summer as part of its youth employment program.
Some of these people will receive paychecks for their service at the Juneteenth festival.
“It’s a great opportunity because these are young people, and many have never heard of Juneteenth or what its significance is,” Helton said.
Taking part in such a meaningful event can be impactful for young people, Helton said.
“The youth really get a lot out of it. Its not only a community service activity and a way to make money and work, it’s also a history lesson for them, too.”
Helton acknowledged the solemnity of the occasion Juneteenth marks.
“Even though the slaves were emancipated (in 1863), it was two years before they found out in Texas.”
Bonner said the organization has spent the past 11 weeks getting ready for the festival. All three days of activities will take place at the Square. North and East Park Square will close down from about 2 a.m. Saturday morning to midnight Sunday during the festival but will remain open during Friday night’s festivities and Sunday afternoon’s concert, according to an official with the Cobb NAACP.