FAIRBANKS — It started with a three-man band in the back of a pickup truck, followed by a dancing clown, a pink mobile mammography clinic, a stretch limo and scores of people, either singing, holding a banner or just trailing along.
It was the Juneteenth Celebration parade, headed from the JP Jones Community Development Center to the Allridge Park in South Fairbanks.
Juneteenth is a day of commemoration for the news of emancipation when it finally reached Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln declared all slaves free.
The Fairbanks celebration on Saturday was sponsored by the Fairbanks National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It started with a short parade and ended with a picnic at the park.
Jaime Newton, a local business owner, cruised behind the parade on a bicycle, wearing a Ghanaian grass hat and patterned shirt. At the park, he said the day’s history holds special meaning for African Americans and is worth celebrating.
“We got all fired up and excited to learn that our lives are changed forever,” he explained. “We won’t forget.”
People lounged in the sun after the parade, listening to music as volunteers grilled ribs, chicken, hot dogs and burgers.
Co-coordinator Debra Pearson said the park’s namesake — Bernice Allridge — was a local African American pioneer. It was a fitting place to celebrate an important day.
Allridge used to care for the children of working parents, and Pearson was one of those children. She still remembers a birthday party where Allridge taught the kids to sing “Here We Go Loopty-Loo.”
“We had the best time,” Pearson said. “It was 40 below, but we didn’t care.”
Sean Rice, the other co-coordinator, helped set up the parade route along 23rd Avenue, including putting up road blocks to intersecting streets.
It was the second year in a row for the parade. Last year’s was the first Juneteenth parade in about 15 years, Pearson said.
“It was so successful ... so we said, OK, we’ll do it again,” she said.
Pearson said she was especially proud of the fact that two other black pioneers — Ruthie Bell and Debra Tatum — were able to ride in a limousine along the parade route. The two women have been in Alaska since around statehood. Bell said she felt honored with the special ride.
After people had settled for a while at the park, Sandra Rice stepped up to the microphone to let people know about the origins of Juneteenth. She gave a detailed and dramatic description of slavery and the things people endured from the trip from their homelands to the lives they were given in the “New World.”
“It’s not just a party,” she said. “It’s our family heritage. Thank God there was someone stronger than me that stood so I could stand here today.”
Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.