David Hall of Clovis grills ribs at the Juneteenth celebration at Potter Park on Saturday. Hall arrived at 7 a.m. to help set up the event. (Staff photo: Andy DeLislie)
By Kevin Wilson : CNJ staff writer
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
For the organizers of the Juneteenth event in Clovis, it’s weeks and months of preparation seeking donations and volunteers to help give citizens an afternoon of food and entertainment at no charge.
For those who come, it’s simply a chance to get together with friends.
This year’s celebration, the 10th Juneteenth in Clovis, was held at O.C.
Potter Park, with hundreds in attendance to enjoy food, swimming and companionship.
At the center of it all was event coordinator William Hall. Hall, also known as “Pill” to many of those in attendance, spent much of the afternoon at a picnic area on the park’s south side, where he made sure a tub full of ice and water was continually stocked with donations of bottled water and soft drinks.
Hall said he remembered a time when area merchants didn’t donate goods, and vendors were a part of the celebration. With a few friends, he worked to change that.
“I didn’t think it was right for them to make a dollar off of our ancestors being chained,” Hall said.
Now, plates of ribs, chicken, brisket and other foods are given away by numerous cookers, who greet people with a hello, followed quickly by, “You get something to eat yet?”
Robert Farley of Las Cruces was one of those people. Farley chatted with fellow cookers, between routine stops to turn meat in his smoker.
“I lived here for 22 years,” Farley said. “I was stationed at the base when I was with the military. I also worked for the Clovis Police Department before I worked for (BNSF Railway).”
Farley said his wife still has family in the area as well, so they’ve made a weekend trip for the last six years.
There were people who came to the celebration from Albuquerque, Oklahoma City and other areas. But it was mostly a chance for Clovis residents to catch up and have fun.
Many families had set up canopies to create some shade in the 90-degree heat, while children beat the weather by swimming in the Potter Park pool.
Albert Steward and his family did neither, finding shade under a series of trees next to the pool. Steward was busy with his video camera, taking a picture of 23-month-old grandson Caden working on a portion of ribs three times larger than his hands.
Someday when they get older, Steward said he’d explain the reason for Juneteenth to Caden and twin sister Cameron. For now, Steward said, “They just know they’re out here having a good time.”
That’s when the event is at its best, Hall said. The only thing that could make the event better, Hall figured, would be to have larger crowds in the upcoming years.
“I’d like to see it get to be a whole lot bigger,” Hall said. “I’d like to get people to come here, stay in a motel and look forward to it.”
Hall said he would like to see cookers make a competition in future years. That wasn’t the case Saturday, as Farley revealed when asked what made his barbecue the best.
“Nothing,” Farley said with a laugh. “Everybody’s (food is) good.”