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Central Oregon groups planning first official Juneteenth celebration

March up Pilot Butte set for Saturday morning, celebration at Ponderosa Park at noon

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Groups in Central Oregon are gearing up for the first official Juneteenth celebration. 

While it is organized by a number of groups, not the city of Bend, Fathers Group President David Merritt thinks it can be an event for the whole community, following the recent approval of a bill by the state Legislature declaring Juneteenth an official state holiday. 

"Show a semblance of community and unity with everybody, not just people of color but everybody in the community because we all have to live here,” Merritt said Monday. 

June 19, 1865, now known as Juneteenth, celebrates the day the last group of slaves in Texas were made aware of their freedom.

That was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly Founder Riccardo Waites explained what that meant. 

"People in the South, they still worked for two years, at least, under the guise that they were still slaves, when they weren't,” Waites said.

Marcus Legrand, executive member of the Fathers Group, said he and the other members decided to organize this event because they have each celebrated the holiday in other areas of the country, and wanted to share the experience here. 

"Because I think a lot of us, we have come from so many other places where we celebrate Juneteenth, and now we all are here,” Legrand said. “We are trying to be able to connect with each other and it's important that we do it through a celebration, and this is a great opportunity for us to do so."

Merritt wants Juneteenth to be similar to other large celebrations in Bend.

"I know our community's small, but our voice is still important, so we just want to show that we continue as well,” Merritt said. 

Waites is leading a different event, a peaceful march on Saturday called "Take Back the Butte."

Waites said in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan used the summit of Pilot Butte to burn crosses and hold meetings.

"So what we like to do is gather the community and march back up that butte and 'take it back,' in the name of peace and equality,” Waites said.

The first "Take Back the Butte" march was held last year, and Waites said the event was spiritual and powerful.

Waites looks forward to the way Juneteenth can grow in Central Oregon.

"I think we could do a little bit better, but it's new, right?” Waites said. 

Legrand agrees.

"I think what we need to do better is to continue to communicate, as well as be transparent to what we're trying to do. Because I think if we continue to do that, I think we can build from there,” Legrand said. 

The march is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, and the celebration is set to start around noon at Ponderosa Park.

There will be various foods, historical speakers, educational tents and more.

Article Topic Follows: Central Oregon
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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

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