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Great Falls prepares for Juneteenth celebration

Great Falls Juneteenth celebration
Sandi Filipowicz and Jadakiss Smith.jpg
Juneteenth poster.jpg
Posted at 11:28 AM, Jun 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-16 10:40:32-04

GREAT FALLS — Great Falls is preparing to celebrate Juneteenth for the third straight year. Organizers say this year’s event will be bigger and better than ever.

Two years ago, President Biden officially made June 19th, otherwise known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day, a federal holiday. On Saturday, June 17, the community of Great Falls will once again commemorate the event.

“Juneteenth represents freedom and justice in America, and it shows that it has been delayed but not denied for the African American culture,” said Staff Sergeant Jadakiss Smith of Malmstrom Air Force Base, who is also on the Juneteenth planning committee.

The day celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans in 1865.

“Learning that history that isn't in our history books in school is really important,” said YWCA Great Falls director Sandi Filipowicz, also a member of the planning committee.

The free, family-friendly event will feature music, games, food, stories and more. “It's going to be a community celebration of freedom and a chance to learn a little bit about the history, but also a chance to really celebrate who we are as a community,” said Filipowicz.

Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday in 47 states, including Montana. The website provides this overview of the occasion:

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

While only in its third year, Filipowicz already sees the event evolving and gaining momentum each year.

“We have different groups doing entertainment. We have different groups coming in this year,” said Filipowicz. “The big changes are Alluvion Health will be there to do first aid if it's a hot day or there's any problems with the games. We have the bookmobile from the library. We freshen it up every year and change it just enough so that it doesn't seem like something that they've seen before.”

Sandi Filipowicz and Jadakiss Smith

Smith says he’s already seen a lot of participation from the base and believes it’s a great event for the Malmstrom community.

“Different people come and go every year, so even like me, this will be my first time attending,” said Smith. “So actually getting to be a part of the community and help plan, it is just amazing."

Filipowicz echoed Smith’s thought by quoting from an op-ed piece written by former Great Falls resident and civic leader Mary Moe in encouraging people to attend.

“Please join us for this community's Juneteenth and celebrate the tie that in unbinding us binds us even more firmly to the independence we all treasure as Americans,” said Filpowicz.

Great Falls prepares for 2023 Juneteenth celebration

Smith, who grew up in the small town of St. Pauls, North Carolina, remembers learning about his ancestry from his grandmother and recalls the power of the Juneteenth message.

“We would all get together, and we were all just saying, freedom, freedom,” said Smith. “We were all just sitting there all together, standing all around and it would be amazing.”

He added, “I think we need this now more than ever."

The Great Falls Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration takes place Saturday, June 17th from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM in the Gibson Park bandshell area.


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