The James Simmons Jr. Juneteenth Festival returns to downtown Wharton today after having been canceled last year due to devasation to the area by Hurricane Harvey the prior year.
Earlier this week, festival officials for the ninth annual event looked around downtown Wharton, walking up and in the middle of South Sam Houston for logistical purposes. One of those individuals was Paul Kearney, who not only is an organizer, but a musician and will perform on stage with other entertainers.
“This is so wonderful being able to talk (with organizers) about where the stage is going to be at, where the food is going to be, where the children will be playing,” Kearney said. “We didn’t have this chance last year, so to walk around and visualize how the festival is going to look before we begin to set everything up is a very good thing – very good for the community.”
If the Juneteenth Festival is anything like before, there will be at least 10,000 people coming in and out of the downtown area in the hours it is held.
The festival begins at 8 a.m. and concludes at midnight.
Honorees and introductions
Both residents and visitors who attend the festival will get to see elected officials of African-American descent who have made Wharton County what it is today, Kearney said.
That’s the reason for the honorees’ portion of the program, which begins at 4 p.m. It includes the introduction of Wharton council persons and trustees like Clifford Jackson and Alice Heard (City of Wharton), and Curtis Evans and Steven Roberts (Wharton ISD).
Others who are listed as honorees, and who have been featured in the El Campo Leader-News and Wharton Journal-Spectator the past several weeks, are Greg Anderson, Christi Ellis, Robyn Mitchell, Dr. Audrey Ross Powell and Carlton Scott. The list of honorees also includes the El Campo High School girls’ varsity basketball team and Wharton ISD’s varsity football and girls’ basketball teams.
It will begin with a prayer by Pastor Ronnie Webb, of Eastgate Baptist Church. There will also be a short presentation about the devastation that Hurricane Harvey and subsequent flooding had on Wharton in August 2017. A ‘thank you” by Kay Armstrong and Holy Family Catholic Church are expected to be part of this presentation.
Part of the honorees program is the service of a meal courtesy of Evelyn’s Soul Food beginning at 1 p.m. It will be followed by a 1:15 p.m. prayer by Richard Ayers and the Rev. Jefferson Dickerson and a family dinner at 1:30 p.m.
Gospel music begins around the courthouse at 3 p.m.
Simmons will be introduced just before the beginning of Lakeside’s performance at 8 p.m. Simmons is listed as the sponsor of the event, which does not allow alcoholic beverages and coolers by festival-goers.
Following Lakeside will be the SOS Band at 9 p.m.
The performances at night will be preceded by a Gospel show at 5 p.m. featuring James Ray “It’s Not About Us,” Pastor A.L. Edwards, and Candi Spiritual Singers.
The Funk and R&B Show is a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin and begins at 7 p.m. It features the Superior Band, Lady Audrey, Rebekah, Christie, Cheri Jackson, Mrs. Pinky and Trudy Lynn.
To make this possible, festival officials spoke to the Wharton City Council earlier this year during a meeting about the event. The festival was granted unanimous approval to close some of the streets. Portions of Houston and Fulton streets from Milam to Burleson will be closed, and the section of Houston from Burleson to Elm will also be closed before, during and after the event for cleaning up.