ELKIN — Just a day after a proclamation from President Joe Biden making Juneteenth a Federal holiday, Bridge of Unity hosted its inaugural Juneteenth festival in Elkin. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorates June 19, 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas finally learned of their freedom.
The celebration in Elkin was a joyous one featuring food, music, face painting, games and more. Food trucks from across the state featured seafood, soul food and sweets. A BBQ cookoff was the afternoon highlight of the event. The smells of smoking meat drifted from under the trees near the Heritage Center offering a tempting preview of what was to come.
Lyle Sacco, Toby Pegram and Carter Malloy had been at work since 2 a.m. on the lawn next to the Heritage Center working on their BBQ.
“It’s a true low and slow,” said Malloy.
“Our process is were just doing it as traditional as you can do it, traditional east coast style,” said Sacco. “We don’t have a secret other than trusting our smoke, we’re doing oak wood; making sure we control our temperature.”
Keeping the temperature right is one of the keys to success for cooking a whole hog, said Jesse Artis, of Goldsboro, another of the BBQ competitors. Artis said he had been cooking BBQ for a long time.
“I mostly do it for my family reunions and birthdays,” he said.
Artis’ family was with him in Elkin for the Juneteenth celebration, including his son Victor.
“It’s good seeing people come out after the COVID restrictions have been lifted,” Victor Artis said. “It’s just good to see people out enjoying the sun, enjoying each other and enjoying the BBQ.
Clarence Gray was also among those taking part in the BBQ competition. A member of the Bridge of Unity committee, this was his first time barbecuing and entire pig.
“I’m excited to see how it’s going to turn out,” Gray said, though he would not reveal any secret ingredients he was using.
Speaking on the fact that Juneteenth was made a Federal holiday just a day before the event Gray said, “that’s how God works.”
“It’s wonderful, it makes my heart smile,” he said. “It’s a celebration of freedom. This is America. It’s not black, it’s not white, this is America’s freedom celebration.”
Organizers with Bridge of Unity including Amanda Brewer and Sly Best said they were thrilled with turn out and community support and hope to grow the event in the future.
“I’m just overwhelmed with the success of it,” said Brewer.
Mayor Sam Bishop read a Juneteenth proclamation during the festivities and Best said that was an especially important part of the day.
The proclamation read, in part, “The Town of Elkin encourages all people to observe Juneteenth as a day to reflect on and learn from the past, a day of healing and renewal, and a day to spur on efforts to build a brighter future.”
“The community came out and showed up and Elkin and Jonesville is just the beginning of a great thing for many cities in the surrounding area,” said Best. “We’re hoping that they can join us and we can make this thing as large as it can possibly be for the future.”
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @news_shewrote.