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Chuck Alexander

Fun in the Sun: Picnickers at last year's Juneteenth.

Elbert Reed talks about Juneteenth '96

By Nicky Baxter

ON JUNE 19, 1865, some 16 months after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the jig was up. No more of the free labor that, more than any other factor, put the United States on the map. Texan slaves were the last to know--nor was manumission a systematic operation. Juneteenth signifies that the exact day when the shackles were finally shucked varied from state to state.

According to most sources, Texan colored folk were the last to know. When the news did arrive, pandemonium gripped the region. Africans partied and thanked their God for delivering them from evil. From there, the joyous spirit of Juneteenth spread like the good news it was all across the nation. The celebration even caught on right here in Silicon Valley.

Elbert Reed, executive director of the African American Community Service Agency, has been actively involved with Juneteenth in San Jose for the past three years. He is quick to point out, however, that as a native Texan, the event has always been an integral aspect of his life. "It's kind of bred in you there," says Reed, seated in mauve-colored swivel chair in the agency's business office. Though the event has had its ups and downs, financially and otherwise, Juneteenth is thriving under the AACSA's auspices.

"What's important about Juneteenth is that it introduces young African Americans to a part of their history," Reed says. That history, Reed claims, is not being taught in U.S. schools to any great degree. For Reed, the corollary is downright disheartening. "There are some younger blacks that want this to be a big party and that's it. We want to take the opportunity to educate people, too." Hamstringing Juneteenth's development is lack of money, an apparently congenital ailment besetting many if not most black-run ventures. Reed estimates that the two-day festival costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000 to $40,000 to organize.

"We do get a small portion of funding from the city," Reed allows. From the tone of his voice, however, you get the feeling the AASCA's executive director wouldn't complain if City Hall, and the multinationals here in Silicon Valley, offered some significant help.

Despite these concerns, Reed seems optimistic about Juneteenth '96. Miss Black America will be on hand; radio personality Sheila Robinson will talk; and Sista Monica will sing up a rainbow of black music. Held at Evergreen Valley College this year, Juneteenth '96 boasts a bunch of other events: arts-and-crafts vendors, youth-oriented activities and a 5K "Walk for Life" (beginning at 10am).

During the length of our interview, the African American Community Service Agency's phone has gone off more often than not, a blaring reminder that Reed is a very busy man. His final thought on the matter is upbeat: "I feel good about [Juneteenth]. We're getting a lot of support from the community and media. I have a feeling it's going to be a real success."

The 1996 Juneteenth Festival takes place Saturday-Sunday (June 15-16) at Evergreen Valley College, 3095 Yerba Buena Road, San Jose. Call 408/292-3158 for details.

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From the June 13-19, 1996 issue of Metro

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