By Gary Mitchell
William P. “Pill” Hall of Clovis has a certain reputation to maintain this time of year.
Hall, 56, is the creator of what some would describe as a legendary barbecue sauce, and he shows it off during the annual Juneteenth celebration.
“It’s very good,” said Barbara E. Singleton, event coordinator of this year’s Westside Juneteenth Extravaganza from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Potter Park. “There’s none better.”
“I’m a pretty good cook,” Hall said quietly. “I mix my own sauce. I make it four months ahead of time because it has to age. The longer it goes, the better it tastes. It carries all the ingredients with it. I’ll start cooking Saturday at about 4 a.m. The sauce cooks right into the meat. It doesn’t run. It doesn’t burn.”
Food fare offered at the event consists of ribs, chicken, deep-fried catfish, hot links, hamburgers, hot dogs, soda drinks, watermelons, apple cobbler, peach cobbler, collard greens, potato salads and assorted cakes, pies and cookies.
Besides the good food, the key characteristic of the Juneteenth event is that everything is free, Singleton said.
“It’s more or less like a celebration of freedom,” she said. “People like the fact they can fellowship together with free food, free swimming, and it gives you a chance to meet your neighbors and friends you haven’t seen in a while.”
“We have people coming in from Oklahoma City, Mississippi, Colorado, Texas, Alamogordo and Las Cruces here in New Mexico,” Hall said.
“This celebration brings in people from far and wide,” Singleton added. “We’re expecting roughly about 3,000 people — it’s going to be bigger than last year.”
Hall was one of the organizers of the Clovis event seven years ago.
“We were sitting around Aaron Young’s barber shop with Aaron Young, Leroy Warren, ‘Big Mac’ McPherson, Joe Carson and me,” he said. “Juneteenth had been around a long time, so someone said, ‘Why don’t we just start doing it here?’ and I said, ‘Don’t get me started on something ’cause I don’t want to quit.’ They all said, ‘We won’t quit.’ But the first year we started, two of them died — Big Mac and Joe Carson.”
When that happened, it dampened the enthusiasm to keep the event going, Hall said.
“It was a tough beginning,” he said. “One of the guys said, ‘I don’t know if we ought to keep doing it. Maybe we ought to quit.’ But we said, ‘They would want us to do it and not quit.’ Everyone said, ‘That’s right,’ so we decided to keep on doing it. That first year, we had 800 to 900 people, but the street was too small.”
Since then, the celebration has been moved to Potter Park .
Juneteenth originally began in Texas when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army led his troops into Galveston. There, on June 19, 1865, he officially proclaimed freedom for slaves in that state. Granger’s ride through Galveston culminated a two-and-a-half year trek through America’s deep South.
But many states, parishes and counties had been excluded from learning of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation issued Jan. 1, 1863, leaving millions of African-American slaves without their freedom.
So it was on this date the African-American slaves of Texas and other parts of the South celebrated the final execution of the Emancipation Proclamation, giving them their freedom.