Juneteenth to honor Olympian

What started as a typical Juneteenth celebration turned into so much more, including honoring Madera-born Olympian Lee Evans, who passed away in May.


“It started tiny and now it’s escalating to be an amazing event,” said Madera City Councilwoman Anita Evans (no relation). “The veterans will be participating. We will have proclamations coming in. The fire department is going to raise their big flag. We’re going to honor Lee Evans during the Juneteenth celebration. We have a whole program for that day.”


The Juneteenth Celebration will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Courthouse Park, a change from the original 3 p.m. time.


“Due to the excessive heat we have decided to change the program time,” Evans said “Everything will still be the same, except the weather at that time will be so much more bearable.”


Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19 as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.


“We will have some speakers talk about Juneteenth Day,” Evans said. “However, we are also going to do a tribute to for Lee Evans. There are so many things that are not acknowledged, so when (Madera Mayor) Santos Garcia contacted me and spoke to me in reference to Mr. Evans. He asked what I could do for it. I got my thinking cap on. I said, he’s an Olympian and a black man. He fought for civil rights. Let’s do him in conjunction with Juneteenth celebration.”


According to juneteenth.com, Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today.


Lee Evans won two gold medals — in the 400 meter run and the 4X400 meter relay — at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He co-founded the Olympic Project for Human Rights and was a part of the Black Power Movement. Evans was immortalized by a photo of him at the medal ceremony wearing a black beret to show support for the Black Panther Party.


Evans died May 19 in Nigeria, where he coached track, after suffering a stroke. He was 74.


“He was born in Madera. He went to school in Fresno and then to San Jose State,” Anita Evans said.


Evans also urges people to bring their lawn chairs, but bring their appetites.


“We will have taco trucks set up behind the museum so they can purchase meals,” she said.