The city of Anniston announced Tuesday that the 2020 Heritage Festival, an annual Juneteenth celebration, planned for this Saturday has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We just felt that out of respect for the citizens and keeping them safe, and out of respect to the event's sponsors, that it would be best to cancel the event for this year because there were still some areas we weren’t sure of as we were trying our best to prepare to keep everyone safe,” said Jackson Hodges, the public information officer for the city of Anniston.
Hodges explained that the Parks and Recreation Department did its best to reschedule the event for later in the summer, but that between the performing acts and the staff needed to work the event, it wasn’t going to work due to the “overall COVID climate.”
“I think we, as a city, would like our citizens to know that we understand that the Heritage Festival embodies the Juneteenth holiday,” Hodges said. “It can’t be understated how important that day is as it serves as a day of freedom. It’s with heavy hearts that we make decisions such as these.”
The Juneteenth holiday is an annual holiday celebrated on June 19 in commemoration of Union general Gordon Granger who, on that day in 1865, read a military order in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming that Civil War had ended and that American slavery was abolished.
The artists who were slated to perform at what would have been the eighth annual festival — Evelyn “Champagne” King and Ronnie Bell — have committed to playing in the rescheduled festival on June 19, 2021, according to Hodges.
“The deposits that they were given, they’re just gonna hold on to them and they’re gonna come back and perform,” he said. “We appreciate the acts for committing to do that.”
According to Frazier Burroughs, director of the Anniston Parks and Recreation Department, the festival was expected to host between seven and 10 vendors and cost the city $25,000, with local sponsors including Anniston Water Works, County Commissioner Fred Wilson, state Rep. Barbara Boyd, F0rt McClellan Credit Union and Eastman Chemical Company.
Burroughs said the festival activities normally include games, activities, rides and vendors for the kids and both local and gospel groups performing.
“Throughout the day, the activities for the event normally start around noon,” Burroughs said. “We have the kids activities, bouncy slides and all of that kind of stuff. All of that was for the kids from about 12 to about 4 and after 4 most of the kids' events would shut down and then the adult-type entertainment would begin and carry on throughout the rest of the evening.”
A group known as Change in Action planned to organize an observance at the Heritage Festival in commemoration of the Juneteenth holiday, however, with the cancellation, the group’s plans have changed.
Lesa Lace, an Oxford resident who has attended several protests with the group, said she’s not surprised that the festival was canceled. Attempts to reach the organizer were unsuccessful.
“I do believe that COVID is just a convenient excuse,” Lace said.
Lace said that since people are still allowed to protest during the COVID-19 pandemic, the group’s best bet for commemorating the holiday is to hold another protest.
“I feel like our best bet, if we’re going to celebrate this holiday, is to turn it into a protest that way we’re not confined to permits and we can still celebrate this,” she said.
The protest organizer, Jajuan Montez, tried to negotiate with the city on rescheduling the event, according to Lace. Lace did not indicate whether a protest has been planned for the Juneteenth holiday, but she said that she has suggested the idea to the organizer.
To Lace, the Juneteenth holiday is an important observance that she said “America has yet to really observe” and that it should be observed by everyone.
“Juneteenth is very important for us to continue to celebrate, not only as black people, but as Americans, because people love to talk about our history but they only want to talk about the things that suit their narrative.”