For some, the parade – featuring everything from floats and antique cars to dancers and drill teams – was the best part.
Others liked the booths and tents selling jewelry, clothing, musical instruments and art.
And then there were those who were in it for the food:
Fried catfish and fried whiting, macaroni and cheese, barbecue, hot dogs and hamburgers, fried dough.
But for Harmony Laster, 6, enjoying Juneteenth – the annual June festival in the city’s Martin Luther King Park area – with her relatives and friends, the day’s fun could be summed up in two words:
“Cotton candy,” said a satisfied Harmony, who participated in Saturday’s parade.
The Juneteenth observance, which has roots in the 19th century, commemorates the ending of slavery and beginnings of freedom for many African-Americans in that period in the country’s history. This year’s event marks the 38th annual festival in Buffalo.
“It’s definitely a celebration of freedom and the progress black people have made,” said Gizelle Stokes, who accompanied Harmony at the event. “But you also see people you haven’t seen in a while.”
“It’s just a celebration of the 13th Amendment, essentially,” Stokes said. “Every year, it just celebrates freedom.”
Juneteenth Buffalo 2013 will continue today in the park, located near the city’s Science Museum, organizers said.
Some 160 vendors and booths were participating in the festival, organizers including Lemmie Brown said.
Nearly ideal weather – sunny skies, warm but not-muggy temperatures – helped boost the day’s attendance for the event, which draws people from across Western New York and out of town.
“This is my first (Juneteenth) in 15 years,” said Aretha Devers, who said she had been living out of state. “The best part is that my niece came and got me and brought me out today. It was a nice day.”
For Makeda Holley, a trained dancer specializing in African dance, this year’s Juneteenth was a chance to return to Buffalo from her North Carolina home, and to show some of her skills.
Holley, clad in a black dancing ensemble she described as a grand bouba and lapa, or top and skirt, as well as a headdress, performed in the parade held Saturday morning and also danced in a stage performance in an arts demonstration.
“There’s no Juneteenth like this one,” said Holley. “The way the community comes together in such a way. You get rejuvenated twice a year – the other time is Kwanzaa. I would not be anywhere else for that.”
“It’s like a family reunion for us.”
James Giles, a pastor at Back to Basics in the city, said volunteers from the “community peacemakers” group were on hand – about 35 of them on Saturday alone – to help keep a positive atmosphere at the event. The group has been at the past five Juneteenth events, he said.
“We’re a deterrent,” said Giles. “We let them know we’re not going to allow that.”
The splash pad in Martin Luther King Park drew festivalgoers, as did music performances, basketball games, kids’ activities including bounce houses, and book promotions.
At one food stand, chef Dale Holt was frying whitefish breaded with a “light Louisiana batter.” Holt was also dishing up vegetarian jambalaya, made with “summer squash, zucchini, carrots, corn, broccoli.”
Holt said the day had been a big success for his stand. He thought the weather played a part in that.
“We’ve been through 150 pounds already,” he said, gesturing to the fish bubbling and turning in the fryer.
Holt said he came prepared, though.
“We’ve got a doughnut fryer – it’s the biggest there is,” he said, laughing. “It’s about volume. Look at the line in front of me.”