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'History that belongs to all Americans'; Leander to host first Juneteenth festival Saturday

Claire Osborn
Austin American-Statesman
City Council Member Na'Cole Thompson poses at her home with decorations for Leander's first Juneteenth celebration, which will be held Saturday.

LEANDER — The city of Leander is sponsoring its first Juneteenth celebration, thanks to the efforts of City Council Member Na'Cole Thompson.

Juneteenth celebrates the announcement by a Union Army general on June 19, 1865, that slaves were free in Texas. The announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.  

"Juneteenth is American history," Thompson said. "For a long time, it's been treated like it only belongs to the Black community, but this is history that belongs to all Americans and should be recognized as such."

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Decorations for Leander's first Juneteenth celebration are prepared at Leander City Council Member Na'Cole Thompson's home.

Thompson said she proposed the idea of the city sponsoring the Juneteenth Jubilee to the City Council because there were no local nonprofits that could help with the expense.

The council approved it in April, and the city is contributing $5,000 to the event, where 12 city employees also will be working, city spokesman Ty Meighan said. 

"Juneteenth today is a symbol of the human spirit achieving victory over cruelty and oppression, and its anniversary serves to remind us that endurance, determination and perseverance can change our world for the better," according to a city news release.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021. 

Leander Mayor Christine DeLisle said it's important for the city to celebrate Juneteenth. "Leander is a growing city with a diverse population," she said. "It's important to acknowledge and celebrate the cultures that make up our community. I love what Council Member Thompson has brought and hope to see us expand into more events in the coming years." 

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Thompson and a committee of 20 people are organizing the festival.

Leander's celebration will be 4-8 p.m. Saturday in the city's Old Town at 100 N. Brushy Street. The event will include a scavenger hunt, live music, a domino tournament, bounce houses, face painting and food trucks.

There also will be speakers, including 92-year-old Round Rock resident Rosa Washington, who will talk about living through the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and celebrating Juneteenth while growing up in Central Texas, said Thompson. 

Stacy Rhone, the chief executive of BigAustin, a nonprofit that helps underserved communities by providing consultations, training and loans to business owners, also will speak at the event. Thompson said she will talk about the economic challenges that freed slaves faced.  

The event will not be held Sunday, the actual date of Juneteenth, because that is also Father's Day, she said.

Thompson, who has a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting business, said many people don't seem to know what Juneteenth celebrates. 

"I was passing out information about the celebration, and one lady from out of state said, 'Y'all seem to be serious about Juneteenth. What is that?'" said Thompson.

Many people also don't know that former slaves, known as freedmen, settled in a community between Leander and Liberty Hill called the Miller community or Jenks Branch, she said. 

"This ties back to Leander and to our history. … One of the famous people born there was Bill Pickett," Thompson said.

Pickett, born in 1870, was a Black cowboy and Wild West show performer who was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1989.

Thompson said she is excited that the community is open to having a Juneteenth celebration and hopes it will draw a diverse crowd.

"Anytime someone can come to talk with an open mind and is willing to listen to a different view or learn a fact they didn't know," she said, "it moves us in a forward direction and helps us to be better neighbors."