Rainy weather led to an early end for Athens' first Juneteenth festival, but not before it drew a large crowd and most vendors sold out, according to the event's organizer.
Christopher Burks told The News Courier ahead of the event that he hoped to put together a festival in his hometown instead of traveling to Nashville or Birmingham to attend one there. He said Monday that the Athens festival went so well, he's already planning next year's event and hoping to bring a soul food festival to The Square later this summer.
"I was very proud and thankful that Athens came out and that people were coming even as it was starting to rain," Burks said.
Juneteenth originated in Texas to commemorate the anniversary of Gen. Gordon Granger telling slaves in Galveston that they had been freed. Celebrations have since grown across the country, and days before Athens was set to host its first festival, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independent Day Act into law, marking June 19 as a federal holiday.
Burks said after years of celebrating freedom on the Fourth of July, "it's time to celebrate when we were actually free." However, he said it felt good to see people of all races and backgrounds coming together to celebrate in Athens.
"It was something not just for us, but for people to come out and learn the history of it," he said, noting one couple who brought chairs so they could watch the live music and the way everyone gathered for a group dance during the festival.
"It filled my heart, because we all know we love each other and can get together and have fun and not think about anything but getting together and enjoying life, something we needed coming out of the pandemic," Burks said.
In addition to music and dancing, festival goers could visit a variety of vendors, from small businesses selling shirts or beauty items, nonprofits sharing information about their cause, inflatables for children to enjoy and multiple food options, whether it be fried, grilled, baked or frozen. Cell carriers also joined the fun, with two setting up cornhole and other games for passersby.
Burks said he wants to continue the festival in future years, hoping to "go in love" and "bring something back to my town."