EL CENTRO, Calif. -
Imperial Valley came together on Saturday at El Centro Community Center to celebrate Juneteenth, a state holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S.
Event organizer Marlene Thomas said, “The abuse of taking people, ripping people, out of their country and putting them in slavery, using them as property.”
The holiday meant many things for other people that we spoke to at the event. People braved the hot weather to be part of the celebration.
Civil War reenactor Sam Couchman, wearing a Union soldier uniform and armed with an authentic-looking period rifle, said, “History is very important. It’s always been important to me and i think it’s important to the people of the valley and of our country.”
Thomas said the holiday should be an inspiration, making Afro-American people proud for having survived the inhumanity of slavery. “Should inspire us to know that against all odds, losing your family, being stripped of your culture, being stripped of your language, that we still persevered,” Thomas said.
El Centro Mayor Alex Cardenas said the holiday is an important period of history that should always be observed locally and nationally. “we have to understand that cultural preservation is an absolute priority for our city. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom,” Cardenas said.
For Stan Thomas Sr., former baseball player for the Pittsburg Pirates, Juneteenth has a personal meaning.
“I get emotional a little bit. Because we’ve come a long way,” He said, choking up a little as he spoke to us about the holiday and what it means to him.
Born and raised locally, his sports career took off just out of high school.
“Oh! Unbelievable! I’m out here, a 17-year-old with Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Dock Ellis,” Stan said.
His two sons followed his footsteps into sports.
“It’s not often you see two sons in a family like that going first round, and especially from a little town like this,” Stan said.
Stan Thomas Sr. ended his conversation with us by saying for him Juneteenth meant dreams can come true. And for his family, they did, he assured us. He said he and his family wouldn’t be where they’re at if it wasn’t for Juneteenth.