The song "Gonna Have a Funky Good Time" featuring James Brown echoed through Ewert Park on Saturday morning, where residents came to celebrate Joplin Emancipation Park Days.
It is a city tradition dating back nearly a century.
The three-day event highlights African American freedom and achievements, but it also promotes cultural diversity and education as well as respect for all cultures. Festivities included a car show, a raffle with more than 150 prizes, food trucks, a drum circle, live music and a dominoes tournament.
While the event has become a communitywide celebration, it is held in Joplin on the weekend closest to Aug. 4, because this was believed to be the time that slaves in Missouri gained freedom after the Civil War.
Fred Palmer, of Joplin, a former member of the Emancipation Celebration Committee, said he volunteers for Park Days because it’s an important part of African American heritage. He said the emancipation of slaves was a move toward inclusion, freedom and unity.
“It’s not about isolationism or separation, it’s about coming together,” Palmer said. “We’re trying to educate, promote multicultural awareness and respect everyone. We can all live together in harmony and all get our hands on the plow to make this country and this town what it was designed to be — a place for everyone.”
The event sometimes draws thousands of people, although rain Saturday may have reduced crowds.
One of those on hand was Ted Johnson, an Emancipation Celebration Committee member who also organized a car show for the event.
A 1953 Chevy Bel Air, a 1959 Chevy pickup and a 1973 Plymouth Road Runner were just a few of the historic vehicles lining Murphy Boulevard. The car show had approximately 40 entries from Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas; winners received a trophy and a chance at a 50/50 drawing.
Johnson described the three-day event as a family reunion and an opportunity to develop new relationships.
“A lot of the people have been coming out for 10 to 15 years for the same show, and every year, we try to get to know them better,” Johnson said.
Johnson's father, Theodore, started the car show in the 1960s, and it has been growing ever since. Johnson said he’s been trying to make it bigger and better every year by adding more prizes, drawings and creating a family-friendly atmosphere.
“As a committee, we try to get the youth to realize that it’s not only about having fun, but it’s about celebrating our culture,” Johnson said. “This gives them a chance to meet other people and learn how to care about others.”
Patrick and Brenda Bellamy, of Galena, Kansas, attended with their two grandchildren, Damian, 13, and Helena, 11. The couple just moved back to the area from Fort Worth, Texas, and this was their first major outing since arriving.
Patrick Bellamy said the celebration gives them them a chance to teach their grandchildren about the importance of love and acceptance.
“I think it’s wonderful, and I can teach them something that’s more valuable,” he said. “This is about family and loving one another. We’re all brothers and sisters.”
Park Days came to a close on Sunday with a worship service and a free swim at the nearby aquatic center.