MARIETTA — Drizzly weather couldn’t put a damper on Marietta’s 18th annual Juneteenth celebration, which brought hundreds to Marietta Square and Glover Park on Saturday to celebrate the holiday.

Juneteenth, which falls on June 19 each year, commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.

Approximately 115 booths lined the streets of North and East Park Square. Purveyors displayed and sold food, arts and crafts, books, clothing and jewelry, and others handed out information on political organizations, health screenings and vaccine providers, government agencies and corporations.

Gospel singers, rappers and musically inclined children performed on Glover Park’s stage, though the crowd Saturday afternoon was most captivated by a march and performance by a drum line, the Atlanta Ol Skool Drummers.

The annual Juneteenth celebration is organized by the Cobb County chapter of the NAACP. Deane Bonner, the group’s former president, said the event exceeded expectations, despite the bad weather.

“It also not only gives these small businesspeople an opportunity to make some money, it also gives the African American community (the chance) to circulate our dollar more … it stays in our community,” Bonner said.

This year’s event took on special significance after President Joe Biden signed a bill last week establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It is the 11th federal holiday to be established and the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day’s addition in 1983.

“Today is extra special,” Bonner said. “A lady came past here and said that she had never heard of Juneteenth. So, it’s significant, so that now, the world knows about Juneteenth.”

Bonner estimated 2021’s celebration was in the top five in Marietta’s history. Over the years, it’s grown from a gathering of 50-100 mostly Black people to a bona fide, two-day festival with a multiracial crowd of hundreds, she said.

The event attracted Marietta and Cobb’s top brass, including Cobb Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin, City Manager Bill Bruton, Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens and Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady Jr., along with other members of the city council and Georgia General Assembly.

Earnest Hayes has been coming to Marietta’s Juneteenth celebration almost since its inception. He’s cooked and catered barbecue at festivals and events for 20 years and attended the annual event for 16 or 17 of those.

“Sales (are) great today,” Hayes said, standing near the line for his truck, which consistently had a dozen festival-goers waiting throughout the day. “I feel like I got the best barbecue up here.”

Hayes was helped by his son and others in preparing the food. Another family affair was Milsap Kids Sweets and Treats, where the Milsap family was selling cakes, Oreo truffles and sweet popcorn — flavors include watermelon, birthday cake and salted caramel. All the sweets are homemade.

The Milsaps launched the business during the pandemic, said Melinda Milsap, whose husband, four kids, mother and father were all in the booth.

Melinda Milsap works in the healthcare industry and her mother is a caterer. The sweets business is “a legacy to leave behind for the kids. This is their passion, two of them love to bake and cook, so we let them get their hands into it.”

“Everybody just needs this,” Milsap said of the event. “It’s all about unity and love.”

Sabrina Meyers was also selling food with her family, her two adult daughters. Meyers founded Damn Is That A Pickle three years ago and offers 20-plus flavored pickles — Georgia peach, mango, strawberry, Caribbean jerk, Sweet Smoke Bourbon and Damn That’s Too Hot are some of her flavors.

“You know this rain is, … getting people not to come out,” Meyers said. “But I think people are going to still show up, because it’s a great holiday to come here and celebrate.”

Last year, there was no Juneteenth festival, though Cobb NAACP did organize a march as part of the larger protest movement that swept the nation last summer.

“Last year was unfortunate, but bigger and better this year. So, super thankful,” said Brianna Brown, an NAACP member who was helping her friend, Char Ross, sell Bible verse-themed T-shirts.

The event was one of the first large, public events on Marietta Square since the pandemic started. The city-sponsored Glover Park Concert Series returned to the Square last month, and the Fourth of July parade and festival is just around the corner.

“It’s good to be out in public again,” said Marietta resident Tiffany Schneider, as her son, Zeke, played on Glover Park’s train-themed playground, “now that … the pandemic is kind of in a good spot.”

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