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Juneteenth Festival on bluff begins on Friday

NATCHEZ — This Friday will kick-off the annual Juneteenth Festival on the Natchez Bluff which lasts through Saturday, organizers said.

Juneteenth, which is June 19, is an annual freedom day celebration that takes place on the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read aloud federal orders in Galveston, Texas, stating that all enslaved people in the state were free, said Jeremy Houston, co-organizer of this year’s event with Bryan McKnight.

Houston said Saturday is the third annual Miss-Lou Juneteenth Heritage and Soul Festival that began in 2018 with the late Pastor Kevin Deason.

Houston said amid protests against social injustice sweeping the nation and only months after Deason’s death in November is the perfect time for the Juneteenth Fest to bring both black and white residents of Natchez together.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, tents will be set up at least 6 feet apart and festival participants are encouraged to maintain social distancing at all times, Houston said.

Beginning at 7 p.m. Friday on the Natchez bluff, guest speakers will lead a memorial service for blacks who have died due to racial violence, Houston said.

A charity fitness event will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, led by Peace Project members Tarsha Blanton and Saleena Charles, Blanton said.

Kids can participate free and adults are asked to give a $6 donation to the Peace Project, which is a coalition to help spread social justice and equal rights within the community, Blanton said.

“A lot of people here in Natchez deal with depression, anxiety, heart issues and diabetes and with a community this small it doesn’t allow us to thrive here,” Blanton said. “… At a time where we’re so divided, health and wellness need to be at the forefront — especially during a pandemic that seems to be targeting African Americans.”

The festivities will continue at noon Saturday with a family festival that includes a live DJ and free hotdogs for children while they last, Houston said.

“This will be a time for not only black people but whites and blacks to come together in unity during this perilous time facing our nation,” Houston said. “If you don’t have anything to do on the weekend, come out and celebrate with us.”