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'June Dinner:' Small Arkansas town keeps Juneteenth tradition going

"June Dinner" is one of the longest standing Juneteenth celebrations in the Natural State and community members made sure that the tradition continued in a big way.

WILMAR, Ark. — "June Dinner" in Wilmar is one of the oldest Juneteenth celebrations in the Natural State.

People who've been going to the Juneteenth celebration all of their life said they are happy to see that the tradition is continuing.

Each Juneteenth, residents of the small community take part in the big celebration alongside countless other people around the country. 

"June Dinner means a lot to me in different ways," Wilmar Mayor Toni Perry said.

She said the name of the event dates all the way back to the 1800's.

"The slaves finally walked back to Arkansas and spread the news about what they were doing in Texas," Perry said.

The news that slavery was no more.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863.

An abolition of slavery that Texas wouldn't see until two years later.

According to Perry, that's where the celebration in Arkansas, that's lasted more than a century, would begin.

"All the Black people who live here got together and they contribute like a potluck," Perry said.

That's why 88-year-old John Hammock celebrates the holiday with this community every Juneteenth.

"I come back for the excitement, the people, and a lot of friends and people I was raised with," Hammock said.

His front row seat to history started 84-years-old.

Hammock said he and his father-in-law attended the festival together, creating a family tradition that still lives on today.

"I'll probably be coming until I leave here," Hammock said.

It's also a trip down memory lane for 83-year-old Georgia Hammock, who has lived in Wilmar the majority of her life.

As she sits on her porch to watch the annual parade, she said she couldn't help but remember all of the fond memories made over the years.

"A lot of people, they used to come out miles and miles and ride trains to come to Wilmar to the June Dinner," Hammock said.

She said the most of the people she first celebrated with have since passed away, but this event was still important one of them.

The event has a lot of history, so seeing younger people interested in such an important celebration is a welcomed sight for her.

"I'm glad that they are doing that [celebrating], carrying on the work that their fore parents have done," Hammock said.

In the last two years, organizers said that they had to scale the celebrations back. But, that's different this year as they hope to see regular attendance.

Mayor Petty said in previous years, they've seen as many as 10,000 people. 

   

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