TIFTON — Juneteenth was celebrated during the weekend, highlighted with a parade and gathering at the Tift County Courthouse Saturday morning.

The parade began at Community Mortuary and, led by Albany’s Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, finished at the courthouse, where speakers were on hand to talk about the importance of the day.

Rue’Nette Melton led the celebration. A prayer was offered and Mayor Julie Smith read a proclamation declaring June 19-20 as Juneteenth in the City of Tifton. Red, black and green balloons were released.

Speakers included Jacquelyn Johnson, mother of Kendrick Johnson, whose body was found in a gym mat at Lowndes High in January 2013. Additionally, names were read and candles lit in memory of those killed in confrontations with police.

Despite rain, a group continued the celebration at Reed Bingham State Park west of Adel. Rain held off Saturday morning for Juneteenth, but fell during the afternoon and on Sunday.

Juneteenth, declared a new federal holiday by President Joseph Biden last week, commemorates the day in 1865 that Texas African-Americans learned from Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger they were free. Slaves in Southern states had been freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but word had not reached the Texas group until June 19, 1865.

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